Pressure is mounting on the Morrison Government to lift its game on climate change in the lead up to the Glasgow climate change conference, with emphasis rightly being placed on the need for more urgent action and strengthened 2030 emissions reduction targets.
While Commonwealth action on climate change remains hostage to the National Party, most states are now quietly getting on with the job. Both New south Wales and South Australia have now set targets to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, while Victoria has set a 45-50 per cent range. Tasmania already has very low emissions due to the net export of hydroelectricity, while even the biggest emitting state, Queensland, has set a 30 per cent target.
WA and NT are now the exception with no 2030 targets and emissions continuing to rise, driven by the LNG industry which is also now the world's fastest growing pollution source.
Strengthened targets in other states puts increasing pressure on WA to act. The Director of global climate research institute Climate Analytics, Prof. Bill Hare said, “Any suggestion in Western Australia of a 2030 target that has emissions above its 2005 levels would be rightly viewed as completely unfair,” he said.
Thanks to companies like Woodside and Chevron, we are a long way from anything that looks remotely fair here in WA. Currently, WA emissions are already sitting well above 2005 levels – the baseline established under the Paris Agreement - with further growth still to come. This has been driven almost entirely by new gas export projects as the gas industry has overtaken both coal and other mining to become WA's biggest source of pollution.
The gas projects that have driven this pollution growth have all been sanctioned by WA Labor governments. When the Environmental Protection Authority attempted to introduce new policies to control runaway pollution from the gas industry, it was Mark McGowan who overrode the independence of the EPA, acting against the state’s environmental protection laws to ensure that this pollution growth could continue.
As a result of this intervention on behalf of gas companies like Woodside and Chevron, most Australian state governments now have stronger climate policies than our own EPA. While other states are cutting emissions, in the last 12 months the Authority's compromised policy on greenhouse gas emissions has been used to approve gas related projects that will increase WA’s pollution by around four million tonnes per year. These projects include the Woodside Scarborough / Pluto expansion; the Waitsia onshore gas development in Perth Basin backed by Kerry Stokes; FMG’s gas fired power station in the Pilbara and the Perdaman fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula which will use gas from Woodside's Scarborough project.
Prior to this, the EPA sanctioned the processing and export of massive volumes of new gas from the giant Woodside Scarborough LNG project without any environmental assessment at all. If it goes ahead, this one development alone would put an additional 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over its lifetime, making it one of the most polluting developments in Australia’s history with carbon emissions equal to 15 coal-fired power stations.
It is very clear that the gas industry is the main barrier holding back action on climate change in WA and the huge investment and job creation opportunities that would come with it. Earlier this week the NSW government said when announcing their new 2030 target "Our net zero plan is expected to attract more than $37 billion in private-sector investment into NSW."
Given that we have the best renewable energy resources in the nation, that is $37 billion that we could be attracting to WA. But attracting this investment requires government support, and the certainty that comes with pollution reduction targets like those adopted in NSW. Sadly, WA looks set to miss out on the jobs and other benefits that would come with this investment as our State Government and EPA remain firmly captured by the gas industry.
Given everything that is at stake, and all the benefits WA is missing out on, the question must be asked what do we actually get from the climate-wrecking gas industry? When asked about the revenue stream from giant gas developments in WA, treasury officials simply laugh - it is minuscule as the huge profits flow mostly to overseas shareholders. We don’t get many jobs either because the gas industry is the smallest employer by sector, producing fewer jobs per dollar of investment than any other industry.
What we do get from gas is a huge pollution bill which Australian taxpayers are picking up thanks to the Morrison Governments Emissions Reduction Fund - essentially a subsidized offset scheme for multinational gas companies like Woodside. We also get ongoing destruction of ancient, irreplaceable Aboriginal heritage on the Burrup and elsewhere. We get a deeply compromised environmental regulator, and we get a government that is paralysed in the face of the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity that WA has ever faced.
WA is caught in an abusive relationship with the LNG industry. It’s time we all woke up to the gaslighting.
Piers Verstegen is Policy Director at the Conservation Council of WA
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies on 08 9420 7291 or by email, [email protected]