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Australia: Government Releases Climate Change Policy Details

(Apr. 29, 2014) On April 24, 2014, the Australian federal government released the Emissions Reduction Fund White Paper, which provides information on the design of the fund that is to be the central element of the government’s climate change policy. (Press Release, Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Emissions Reduction Fund White Paper Released (Apr. 24, 2014).) The policy, known as the Direct Action plan, will replace the previous administration’s carbon pricing mechanism, which has been in place since July 2012. (See Kelly Buchanan, Australia: Climate Change Reforms Passed, Price on Carbon to Apply from July 2012, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 15, 2011).) Bills to repeal the legislative regime related to the mechanism (referred to as the carbon tax) are currently before the Australian Senate. (Repealing the Carbon Tax, Department of the Environment website (last visited Apr. 28, 2014).)

In releasing the White Paper, the government stated that it “accepts the science of climate change and is firmly committed to reducing Australia’s emissions to meet its target of five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.” (Press Release, Hon. Greg Hunt MP, supra.) The Emissions Reduction Fund will purchase the lowest-cost carbon abatement projects from businesses through reverse auctions held quarterly from the second half of 2014. The Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, stated that the fund will focus on “practical actions such as cleaning up waste coal mine gas, cleaning up wasteland fill gas, cleaning up methane, [and] energy efficiency on a significant scale, whether it’s industrial, commercial or residential.” (Emma Griffiths, Direct Action: Government Releases Policy White Paper on Climate Change Plan, ABC (Apr. 25, 2014).)

In its Green Paper released in December 2013, the government committed to providing a total of A$1.55 billion (about US$1.44 billion) to the fund over the three years, starting from July 2014. In its latest announcement, it stated that a further A$1 billion would be allocated in the May 2014 budget. (Id.; Press Release, Hon. Greg Hunt MP, supra.)

The Labor Party, which failed to retain control of the government in the September 2013 federal elections, along with the Green Party, has criticized the Coalition government’s Direct Action climate change policy, saying that there remain many outstanding questions about how the Emissions Reduction Fund will work and that it will not result in significant reductions in carbon pollution. (Amanda Cavill, Government Releases Emissions Reduction Plan, SBS (Apr. 25, 2014).)

The two parties have also thus far blocked progress of some of the carbon tax repeal bills in the Senate, and the government now faces hurdles in passing new legislation related to the Emissions Reduction Fund through the Senate. Hunt said that the government “will not stop until we repeal the carbon tax, and we are committed and we will not stop until we’ve implemented the emissions reduction fund.” (Lisa Cox & Mark Kenny, ‘Direct Action’ Will Achieve 5% Emissions Reduction ‘Easily': Greg Hunt, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Apr. 24, 2014).)