House debates

Wednesday, 2 August 2023


Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading

6:02 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This is a critical time for our environment. We are facing a climate crisis across the globe. The world is increasingly aware of this as we face harmful heatwaves, fires, floods and sea level rise. As the world becomes more aware of this global activity, we need to do more in terms of our climate change action. The world acknowledges this, and we see export of carbon dioxide streams potentially occurring between countries, carbon capture and sequestration, and research and development to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. These activities are on the horizon, and we need to acknowledge that. We need to act now and introduce legislation and regulation to ensure that we protect our unique environment, our global environment, while we in Australia also capitalise on the opportunities that may arise.

Our government recognises this and is committed to protecting more of what's precious, repairing more of what's damaged, managing nature better for the future and, importantly, achieving net zero emissions by 2050. That's why I stand here today to support the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023.

To be clear, this bill is about making sure that our nation has the necessary frameworks to respond to the threat of climate change, bringing our laws into line with our international obligations under the London protocol and ensuring that, while we grasp opportunity, we protect our precious environment.

This bill will give effect to Australia's international obligations arising out of two amendments to the London protocol that were agreed to in 2009 and 2013. The 2009 amendment was adopted to permit the export of carbon dioxide streams from one country to another for the purpose of carbon sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations. The 2013 amendment was adopted to allow the placement of wastes or other matter into the sea for marine geoengineering activities, such as ocean fertilisation, for the purpose of scientific research. This will enable legitimate scientific research to be undertaken to determine the feasibility of methods that reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Examples of these sorts of scientific activities include microbubbles—injecting tiny bubbles into the ocean surface or into sea foam to increase sunlight reflectivity; marine cloud brightening or seeding—injecting sea salt into cloud updrafts to reflect sunlight back into space; ocean alkalinisation—adding an alkaline substance into seawater to enhance the ocean's natural carbon sink; and macroalgae cultivation—large-scale growth of algae that convert dissolved carbon dioxide into organic carbon through photosynthesis.

The permits for both of those amendments can only be granted after a comprehensive, robust application, assessment and approval process which ensures that any activity is in accordance with the London protocol and has minimum impact on the marine environment in Australian waters. Passing the bill will ensure that Australia can begin to develop a robust regulatory framework domestically, which will enable the government to administer permits for these internationally emerging activities, ensure legal certainty and, above all, protect what we love about Australia—its beautiful natural environment.

Due to the international legal arrangements, following the passage of the legislation the 2009 amendment would operate once Australia deposits a provincial application to the International Maritime Organization. The 2013 amendment, however, would require enough countries to ratify the amendment before it entered into force. So, in Australia, we're getting ahead of the pack. We're acting now so that we're ready when these activities begin.

These amendments were the subject of a recent inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, of which I am a member, which recommended that these amendments be enacted in Australian law for both environmental and regional foreign policy reasons. Our bipartisan committee, which includes members from government, the opposition and the crossbench, found that ratifying these amendments would place Australia in good stead regarding its regional foreign policy objectives, given the clear interest from traditional trading partners.

Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard from experts, such as Dr Yiallourides of Macquarie University's Centre for Environmental Law. Dr Yiallourides recommended that this be ratified from a global environmental law perspective, as it builds harmonisation across borders and foregrounds any of these activities and other requirements in the London protocol. He acknowledges that these are the most specialised provisions that we currently have. I'd like to thank my colleagues on the committee for their work. The enactment of these amendments was also recommended in an independent policy insight paper from the Climate Change Authority in April 2023.

These laws will operate in concert with the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the existing provisions under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme, as well as various state and territory laws.

It should be noted that domestic offshore carbon capture utilisation and storage can currently occur under existing laws. No project has, to date, reached a final investment decision. It is likely that any offshore project would occur through these domestic mechanisms long before any country-to-country project. So they could happen in our own country first, and we need to have the right legislation.

Should this bill not be introduced, there would be no robust regulatory framework so that operators and researchers and any industry body are held accountable. This is particularly relevant for marine geoengineering activities, which are already occurring and for which greater oversight will be beneficial when they increase in scale. Any unregulated approach to these activities risks great harm to the marine environment, and so it is that we need comprehensive and robust regulations. This is what this bill is all about. It is crucial for the House to note that carbon capture projects are, and should only be, a small part of our emissions reduction architecture.

Our government is getting on with the job of responsibly decarbonising our economy in line with international obligations like the London protocol. This is a tough job—catching up on a wasted decade of climate inaction. But, since our Albanese Labor government's election, we have legislated an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030, with a clear path to net zero by 2050; passed the safeguards mechanism to ensure that our heavy emitters fit within that path to net zero; doubled the rate of renewable energy approvals; started the process of rewriting our environmental laws and put our environment onto a nature-positive trajectory; invested $2 billion in green hydrogen in the budget; provided $1.6 billion for home and small-business electrification; put $20 billion towards our Rewiring the Nation plan; started establishing massive new offshore wind projects around the country; and committed $3 billion to the National Reconstruction Fund for renewables and low-emissions technologies.

All reputable advice to government, globally and at home, says that carbon capture and storage will play a role in the path to net zero. This is the advice of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, the International Energy Agency, Australia's independent Climate Change Authority and our much-trusted CSIRO. This bill is about ensuring it is done in the most rigorous regulatory framework. What we are not doing is what the former government did, which was to provide wasteful public subsidies for commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage. We have cut the $250 million of the former government's subsidies for carbon capture programs. Large resource companies have more than enough capital and expertise to accelerate commercial deployment of CCS, carbon capture and storage.

In closing, this bill is essential to ensure that, as the globe moves to embrace science in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, we also protect our environment. Australia is doing its part, and this is why I ask everyone in this House to support this bill.


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