Adam Bandt accuses Albanese government of ‘greenwashing’ for allowing new coal and gas mines

Greens leader’s criticism suggests party will rekindle demands to add climate trigger in safeguards scheme or limit use of carbon offsets

Adam Bandt has accused Labor of “gaslighting” and “greenwashing” for allowing new coal and gas mines to offset emissions in its upgraded safeguards mechanism.

The Greens leader will tell the Smart Energy Council on Monday that new coal and gas mines “will be the biggest sticking point” for the minor party, whose 12 Senate votes will be required to pass legislation for the scheme.

The comments indicate the Greens will reboot demands to add a climate trigger in environmental regulations to limit new fossil fuel developments, which Labor refused before striking a deal with the minor party to pass its legislation for a 43% emissions reduction, or limit use of emissions offsets.

Earlier in January the Albanese government released its plan to require Australia’s big polluting sites to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity by nearly 5% a year with no limits on the use of carbon offsets, paying for cuts elsewhere.

Ian Chubb, a former chief scientist who headed the government’s review of the carbon credit scheme, warned that polluters should make deep cuts in their own emissions and not rely heavily on offsets.

In an advance excerpt of the speech, seen by Guardian Australia, Bandt says that Labor are “as wedded to new coal and gas as the Liberals were”, with a pipeline of as many as 118 coal and gas projects.

Bandt notes the December emissions projections reveal assumptions that by 2030 new gas projects will be operating at: Woodside’s Scarborough gas field off the Western Australian coast; a Pluto LNG terminal at Burrup Pensinula; Shells’ Crux field west of Darwin, the Browse basin; Santos’ Narrabri field; and the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, which “on its own has the potential to increase Australia’s entire emissions by 11%”.

“Every single new gas project championed by Scott Morrison is now backed by Anthony Albanese,” he says.

“You can’t put out a fire while pouring more petrol on it, but that is exactly what the Albanese government is doing. These coal and gas projects will push out our pollution for decades longer and put a safer climate further out of reach.”

Carbon offsets are used by the government and polluting companies as an alternative to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Instead of reducing their own pollution, they can choose to buy offsets - known as Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) - that are meant to represent a reduction in emissions elsewhere.

Each carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide that has either been stopped from going in the atmosphere, or sucked out of it.

Methods approved to generate carbon credits in Australia include regenerating native forest that has been cleared, protecting a forest that would otherwise have been cleared (known as “avoided deforestation”) and capturing and using emissions that leak from landfill sites to generate electricity.

Credits were bought by the government through the $4.5bn taxpayer-funded emissions reduction scheme or, increasingly, by polluters on the private market. 

Bandt says that 57% of the emissions covered by “Labor’s reheating of the Liberals’ climate policy – the safeguard mechanism” are coal, oil and gas facilities.

Bandt complains the policy allows new coal and gas mines because all “big corporations have to do is buy a few tree-planting permits”.

“It is greenwashing of the highest order. We are shooting past 1.5C [of heating] with no sign of stopping at 2. But under Labor’s safeguard mechanism, pollution from gas will continue to go up.”

The speech echoes the comments of Bill Hare, a climate scientist and member of the UN’s high-level expert group on the net zero emissions commitments of non-state entities, who last year said Australia risked becoming “a state sponsoring greenwashing” if it allowed companies to use offsets without tighter restrictions.

Bandt says “there will be a fight over new coal and gas this year”, noting that the legislation needs Greens support and the safeguard mechanism rules are a “disallowable instrument” that can be struck out by the Senate.

Bandt says the Greens’ approach to negotiations in 2022 shows they “are prepared to compromise and pass laws that help us take even the smallest step on the road to tackling the climate emergency, as we did with Labor’s too-weak target”.

“We are open to negotiating in good faith with the government about the safeguard to ensure we get real cuts to pollution and not just hot air.”

Chubb has said he supports a UN expert group’s position that companies should prioritise absolute emissions cuts consistent with the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C, and offsets should be used only “above and beyond” that.

“I don’t think a good outcome for Australia would be that there is no change in emitters’ behaviour and they just buy up offsets from somewhere,” he said.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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