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An Update on Climate & the Safeguard Mechanism

Labor has proposed a climate plan, the Safeguard mechanism, that backs new coal and gas mines, making the climate crisis worse and contributing to more floods, bushfires, heatwaves and storms. The Greens understand that we need a staged transition out of existing coal and gas, but strongly believe the Government shouldn’t be opening new coal and gas projects, which only makes the problem worse.

The Greens have made good faith offer to Labor. We will put aside our significant concerns with Labor’s bill and pass it, if they agree to stop all new coal and gas mines. 

We can’t reach net zero by 2050 if we open up just one new fossil fuel project. 

The Safeguard mechanism is a reanimated version of Tony Abbott’s old climate change policy that will still see emissions go up because it allows for the approval of new coal and gas projects. 

There are currently 117 new coal and gas projects in the approvals pipeline - if just one of these goes ahead, we’ll blow past our chance to achieve even Labor’s very weak 43% emissions reduction target.

Labor’s policy will actively make the climate crisis worse, because it backs in new coal and gas mines.

The other key issue with this plan is that companies like Santos and Woodside will be allowed to continue to open new projects so long as they buy their way out with cheap offsets - despite increasing evidence that offsets do little or nothing to actually reduce emissions. In this scenario, corporations can buy permits to promise to not cut down trees (even if they weren’t ever intending to cut down these trees anyway) to offset the pollution they’ll pump into the atmosphere.

The simple fact is, the atmosphere doesn’t recognise our accounting tricks. We urgently need to stop pumping CO2 and methane into the air, if we want any opportunity to reduce the ever increasing risk of severe heat waves, bushfires and floods over the coming decades.  

According to Labor, their plan will see a 205 million tonne reduction of pollution. Not only is this likely to only be an accounting trick and not a true reduction in pollution, but any climate gain will be completely written off by just one of Labor’s planned new projects. The Scarborough-Pluto gas project, for example, will add around 232 million tonnes of carbon pollution over the same period. 

Labor may say they care about action on climate change, but their actions make it very clear that it’s the interests of big coal, oil and gas corporations that they’re here in parliament to represent. 

As recently as February 2023, Labor Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, approved 116 new gas wells, giving Santos the green light to frack in Queensland. The wells will have an operational life of 30 years and the approval lasts until *2077*.   

Meanwhile, these corporations are not only making record war profits while paying next to nothing in tax, but are receiving billions of dollars in government cash handouts. This special treatment has come pretty cheap, of the $2 million donated by fossil fuel corporations in the past year - including from Santos, Woodside, APPEA, Chevron, the Minerals Council - $1.4 million went to Labor. 

In return, these fossil fuel corporations will get $40 billion of government subsidies over the next four years and a green light to continue expanding new coal and gas mines. 

The Liberals have said they won’t be supporting Labor’s safeguard mechanism, putting the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate. This means Labor has a choice to make.

The Greens will support the safeguard mechanism, and put aside all of our concerns about the weak targets, the unlimited offsets and the holes in the scheme. We will pass the law in full, if Labor simply agrees to one change: stop approving new coal and gas mines. 

We know the time for real climate action has already passed - but now is the second best time. The Greens were voted into the Senate to fight for urgent climate action. Labor needs to come to the table and work together.