Australia: Parliament agrees to limit emissions from big polluters

Australia, one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita, on Thursday passed climate laws targeting the biggest polluters that will force mines, smelters and refineries to cut emissions by about 5 % per year.

“This is the first time that reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been enshrined in Australian law,” Tommy Wiedmann, a sustainability expert at the University of New South Wales, told AFP.

These laws apply to some 215 large industrial facilities – each producing more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year – and form the backbone of Australia’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions. ‘by 2050.

By requiring these units to cut emissions by 4.9% a year, Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government believes it can prevent 200 million tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere over the next decade.

The installations concerned, operated in particular by the mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto, produce nearly 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the whole country, according to the Australian NGO Climate Council.

“What Parliament has done today is save our climate, save our economy and save our future,” said Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen, welcoming the adoption of the law before elected officials.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, during a traditional welcome ceremony to Fiji, in Nadi on March 15, 2023 (AFP/Archives – LEON LORD)

The government said the plan ended a decade of political wrangling, which has repeatedly frustrated attempts to tackle climate change.

He reached an agreement on the safeguard mechanism after several weeks of difficult negotiations with the environmentalist party of the Greens. They eventually agreed to back the carbon plan after persuading the government to set a hard cap on emissions.

– Natural disasters –

The end of Australia’s climate inaction is “a step in the right direction” which “marginalizes climate skeptics”, judge Martin Brueckner, of Murdoch University in Perth.

But this new legislation “will not be enough on its own”, warns Mr. Wiedmann, according to whom “difficult decisions will have to be taken in the coming years”.

The Mining Industry Council, representing industrialists, warned of the risk of “deterioration of the national economy”, and of seeing “tens of thousands of jobs” disappear.

Australia (26 million inhabitants) alone accounts for more than 1% of global emissions and ranks 14th among polluting countries, according to the Australian government organization for scientific research CSIRO. The mining sector accounts for 14.6% of its GDP, according to its central bank.

Elected last year, Mr. Albanese had promised to end the policies in favor of fossil fuels implemented according to him by the conservatives, in power for nine years.

Long lagging behind in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, the country has evolved after a series of natural disasters attributed at least in part to climate change.

In the austral summer of 2019-20, Australia saw giant bushfires devastate some eight million hectares of vegetation, killing more than 400 inhabitants.

The country also experiences regular episodes of bleaching of its coral reef. Last year about twenty people died in floods on the east coast.

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