House debates

Wednesday, 2 August 2023


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

4:50 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In continuing my remarks with respect to this legislation, I will provide some context to the legislation that is before us. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, otherwise known as the London convention, came into force on 30 August 1975. Eighty-seven states are parties to the convention, which is designed to ensure the protection of the marine environment from human activities. The London convention entered into force for Australia on 20 September 1985. The London convention ensures that a special permit is required prior to dumping certain materials, such as dredged material or man-made structures, at sea and a general permit is required for other wastes or matter.

The London protocol, which will eventually replace the London convention, and which currently has 53 parties signed up to it, came into force in Australia in 2006. The London protocol is more restrictive than the London convention and applies a precautionary approach. The protocol, through a permit system, may allow the dumping of certain materials, including carbon dioxide. In particular, the 2009 amendment permits the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting party to another country for the purpose of sequestration into sub-seabed geological formations as a climate change mitigation measure. At present, only 10 of the 53 contracting parties to the London protocol have ratified the 2009 amendment.

The Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water conducted an inquiry into amendments to the London protocol. Our report was handed in several weeks ago. Within that inquiry, we heard evidence that not all countries have access to suitable sub-seabed storage areas. To date, only six of the 53 contracting parties have ratified the 2013 amendments. Climate scientists tell us that we must reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming levels. Carbon capture and storage in sub-seabed geological formations is one of several means by which atmospheric carbon levels can be limited. The process can be difficult, and there are risks associated with it. We heard that from Geoscience Australia, who outlined a whole range of risks. Time doesn't permit me to go through the whole component of that, but there are risks associated with that, and we accept that.

However, with the right regulations and oversight, the risks can be managed. Again, we heard evidence of how that is being done in Europe right now, where there are some very clear protocols and guidelines as to how you can safely store carbon under seabed geological formations. Norway, which has been storing carbon in sub-seabeds on a commercial scale in the North Sea for over two decades, has an extensive record on this practice. Indeed my understanding is that it's being done pretty well over there. I'm not suggesting that there have never been problems, but I understand, again from the evidence that was provided to the committee, that it is being done effectively and indeed the more it's being done, the more they learn about how to do it even better.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in their submission to the committee's inquiry, in 2022 there were 30 operational carbon capture and storage projects globally, 11 under construction and 153 in development. That means that countries around the world are indeed looking at this as one of the ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. The fact that there are 153 projects in development around the world in addition to those that are already underway suggests to me that, whether we do it or not here in Australia, it is going to take place, and it will take place in other countries around the world. My view on that is that if it is going to take place in other countries, and we in Australia have some of the best and safest geological formations—again, according to the evidence that we received—then I would rather see it done under our regulations, our supervision and our oversight than see the carbon dioxide exported offshore to a country where I don't know whether they will have the same oversight as we would have here in Australia.

But it seems to me that this is a practice that is now being embraced globally. I quote directly from Geoscience Australia's submission to the committee:

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a mature technology with commercial-scale projects operating around the globe, both onshore and offshore. CCS is regarded by many, including—

And I stress this—including—

the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2020; 2021) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2022), as an essential tool to meet emission targets and climate goals.

Geoscience Australia, for which I have a great deal of respect, having listened to presentations in the past, and which I think is one of the leading scientific organisations in the country, has made that statement. I've always come into this place with a view that we should always accept the advice of our best scientific organisations, just as we do on the very issue of climate change. However, as I said, because not all countries have suitable geological formations underground or under seabeds, storage has to be done on the basis that there will be occasions when transcontinental transfer of sequestered carbon needs to take place. Those countries that do not have those same opportunities should be able to go into a contract with a country that does in order to achieve their own carbon reduction goals.

The legislation before us makes the transfer of carbon possible when and only when it is safe to do so. In addition to the general provisions of this legislation, there is attached a process of regulation and oversight that I believe makes the storage of carbon underground a possibility. Indeed, the very provisions associated with this legislation—that is, the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol—are not simply words. Those amendments talk about the safety precautions that need to take place. If you adopt those amendments you adopt with them the safety that goes with the process.

I want to finish with this. There are already considerable amounts of carbon captured and stored underground and under seabeds in the form of coal, oil and gas. It's already there. Returning human-produced carbon dioxide back to where it effectively came from, if done safely, in scientifically proven locations, seems to be a fairly sensible thing to do. I am committed, and I know the Albanese Labor government is committed, to responsible but real action on climate change. Labor accepts the climate science. We did so when we came into office back in 2007 and are now doing it again under the Albanese Labor government.

We understand the global risks we face. We know that Australia must act in concert with other nations. We understand that in the real world that we live in, including here in Australia, most people still drive petrol cars and rely on coal and gas for their energy. We cannot change that overnight. It is as simple as that. But we can begin to take mitigation measures, such as carbon capture and storage, to reduce atmospheric carbon wherever it is safe to do so.

I'll conclude with a couple of comments from the committee's report. These two comments perhaps sum up where the committee came to at the end of its deliberations. By the way, the committee did recommend that this legislation go through the parliament. The committee states at point 2.72:

The Committee recognises that the 2009 amendment and the 2013 amendment to the London Protocol provide a means for countries to respond to the real urgency of climate change.

The other comment is at 2.74:

The Committee considered that the evidence about the environmental benefits was convincing and that any impacts should be able to be addressed through the current and proposed regulatory environment.

Again, the committee had the opportunity, which perhaps not all members of this place have had, to listen to some of what I believe are Australia's leading experts, both in government sectors and even across the private sector and our universities, who appeared before the committee, gave their evidence and effectively said, 'Yes, it's a process that needs to be managed properly, but it can be an effective way of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and helping with the challenge we all have in terms of minimising the effects of climate change.' With those comments, I commend the legislation to the House.

5:02 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to register my distress and disgust at this bill and my disappointment in the government which seeks to pass it. The release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to climate change. In signing the Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Our purpose in doing so was to contribute as a nation to global efforts to limit the progressive, scientifically documented increase in the average temperature of our planet as it approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Doing so demands urgent action to limit the release of greenhouse gases.

While it is also appropriate to look at the rapid and extensive deployment of mitigation options to offset the activities of those industries where some release of greenhouse gases is at this point inevitable, the first and primary focus of our efforts must be to decrease the extent to which we pollute our planet, not to concentrate on unproven and effortful attempts to claw back the harm that we have inflicted on our lands, our atmosphere and our seas.

The latest synthesis report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed the urgent need for ambitious action to limit global warming. It confirmed, yet again, that this planet has no room for new fossil fuel projects and that significant and immediate cuts to emissions are required this decade if we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Just this week, the UN chief has told us that the era of global boiling has arrived and that climate change is here, it's terrifying, and it's just the beginning.

Climate change is already having profound impacts across the globe. Every increment of warming will increase those hazards. Globally, those most affected will almost invariably be those who are least responsible. The hazards to human health include the physical effects of raised temperatures, the emotional trauma caused by extreme weather events and the cumulative effects of the loss of livelihoods, environments and cultures.

The oceans play a central role in regulating the earth's climate. They act as major heat and carbon sinks.

Climate change's impact on the oceans include temperature rise, ocean acidification, sea level rise and the expansion of oxygen minimum zones. These have downstream impacts on ecosystem services such as the provision of livelihoods and foods.

The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 proposes to amend the existing sea dumping act to implement the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol. In short, it seeks to allow the issuing of permits for the export of carbon dioxide streams for the purpose of sequestration into subseabed geological formations. In other words, this bill permits carbon capture and storage under ocean seabeds. It also allows for marine geoengineering activities for the purpose, theoretically, of scientific research. But the impact and effectiveness of that geoengineering research is largely unclear, and its environmental risks are unknown.

Put simply, this bill is a key enabler of the gas industry's plans to significantly expand Australia's engagement with carbon capture and storage in Australia and its import and export of CO2 across international borders. CCS and the global trade of CO2 streams are crucial to the gas industry's global strategy to gain social licence by appearing to act on climate whilst simultaneously opening up new fossil fuel projects against the explicit advice of bodies such as the International Energy Agency and the IPCC. This bill aims to facilitate the greenwashing of fossil fuel expansion plans in Australia.

Let's review what subseabed geological sequestration of carbon dioxide streams would involve. Carbon capture and storage involves capturing, transporting and storing carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes. That CO2 is then transported via a ship and/or a pipeline—there are, of course, further emissions arising from that transport process—to a storage location. It is then injected into and stored within a subseabed geological formation, isolated from the atmosphere. The consequences of this process then have to be verified, monitored and mitigated. The IPCC observed in its 2005 special report on carbon capture and storage:

The widespread application of CCS would depend on technical maturity, costs, overall potential, diffusion and transfer of the technology to developing countries and their capacity to apply the technology, regulatory aspects, environmental issues and public perception.

Almost 20 years later, carbon capture and storage remains an unproven technology which has never achieved target at scale.

Only one CCS project is active in Australia. Chevron's Gorgon carbon capture and storage project on Barrow Island in Western Australia has consistently failed to effectively sequester the required reservoir CO2 generated by the Gorgon LNG project. Gorgon is the latest operating carbon capture and storage project in the world. So far it has cost more than $3 billion, $60 million of which has come from federal government funding. It's currently sequestering about a third of its capacity five years after initiation. It is the biggest and best exemplar worldwide of an ineffective technology. But we have seen similar failures in Norwegian CCS projects as well. There are currently 30 operational CCS projects worldwide. None has demonstrated effect and safety at the scale required for carbon capture and storage to be used at the scale required for this bill.

The Australia Institute has estimated that the combined climate mitigation of all projects underway globally would cumulatively amount to approximately 6.2 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. That's roughly the equivalent of the emissions of one Port Kembla steelworks, or perhaps 0.2 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions each year. Even were it 100 per cent effective, which is far from the case, CCS continues to ignore the 85 per cent to 90 per cent of total emissions from the energy sector which represent scope 3 emissions from oil and gas burned by consumers. At this time, carbon capture and storage have no place in credible pathways to net zero.

Why are we talking now about exporting our carbon dioxide streams? We are doing it to pander to Santos and its plans to establish a carbon capture and storage project in its existing Bayu-Undan gas field.

Santos plans to channel carbon from the offshore Barossa project via the Middle Arm precinct in Darwin Harbour. Other future stores of CO2 for that field include the Beetaloo and Bonaparte basins, the Middle Arm petrochemicals facility, the Verus gas field, and international countries that currently lack CCS facilities, such as Japan, Singapore and Korea.

The unseemly haste with which this bill has been brought to this House appears to reflect the government's desire to assuage the anxiety of Santo and other investors that the Barossa project and other fossil fuel projects off our northern coastline can proceed posthaste, heedless of the potential handbrake effect of the safeguard mechanism. This is despite the absence of approvals and environmental impact statements for Bayu-Undan and for Middle Arm.

This is all without consideration of the direct and indirect environmental and health risks involved. Indirectly, the false proposition of CCS can be used as justification for locking in existing energy structures—that is, the continued and increasing extraction of fossil fuels. There are direct risks associated with transporting carbon dioxide and with potential leaks from undersea or underground stores.

Environmental risks of carbon capture and transport include the unintentional release of carbon dioxide streams into the environment during transport in ships and pipelines and from storage facilities. High carbon dioxide concentration in the air harm people and harm animals. It causes asphyxiation. This is a risk offshore and in onshore hubs, such as Middle Arm, which is adjacent to population centres in Darwin. In a sub-seabed setting, dissolved carbon dioxide acidifies the water. It affects organisms and can cause asphyxiation. Aquatic ecosystems are also threatened by the physical disturbance of drilling and laying pipelines and by seismic events, subsidence, and displacement of aquifers during carbon dioxide injection. Ocean acidity will affect our food systems by adversely affecting marine life. The geomechanical risks associated with carbon capture and storage include abnormal seismic activity, surface uplift and carbon dioxide leakage.

Large-scale shipping of carbon dioxide is a new technology that includes multiple technical and operational challenges. Each of these requires appropriate safety protocols and uses unquantified amounts of energy. Moisture-laden carbon dioxide, such as that transported in carbon capture and storage, is highly corrosive. The loss of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from ships during transport is between three and four per cent per 1,000 kilometres, which means that a loss of 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide load should be expected from export activities between countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia and Timor-Leste.

It is simplistic to think that a long 20-year-old pipeline designed for the transfer of natural gas can be easily retrofitted to a reverse transfer of highly pressurised corrosive carbon dioxide. The various safety and regulatory frameworks involved are not present in this bill. The bill fails to stipulate compliance requirements necessary for the minister to grant a carbon dioxide expert permit. It requires no environmental impact assessments to be undertaken for carbon dioxide import or export or for marine geoengineering. It includes no regulations around the circumstances of carbon dioxide transport. It sets no expectations regarding the regulatory capacity and readiness of destination countries to create and maintain adequate environmental protections.

I also note that both offshore gas projects and carbon capture and storage have implications for the cultural practices of traditional owners on sea country. These implications are also not addressed in this bill. This bill is not situated within a robust regulatory framework that engages and is consistent with the safeguard mechanism, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and other emission reduction legislation. It does not specify which government department will have regulatory responsibility for sub-seabed sequestration if that occurs in Australian waters. It does not clarify who will be responsible and who will have transboundary liability in the event of accidents. It does not stipulate how the export of carbon dioxide will impact our Paris Agreement target compliance and our emissions inventory reporting. In seeking to help fossil fuel companies circumvent the safeguard mechanism and avoid responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions, this bill is inconsistent with the global effort to achieve the Paris Agreement.

Carbon capture and storage is an unproven, costly technology. Promoting it and supporting it by legislation undermines our efforts to decarbonise by giving false credits to a false science, by diverting funding from proven technologies that could reduce emissions and by delaying out transmission to renewables. This bill will be a key enabler of gas expansion. It will grant social licence for new, highly polluting, greenwashed fossil-fuel projects. We must protect our oceans and our aquatic ecosystems from the threats of concentrated, liquefied carbon dioxide. Passage of this bill will kick a toxic carbonated can down the road to our international neighbours. In passing this bill, we would be signalling to the rest of the world our refusal to take responsibility for our own emissions and our willingness to dump them on our neighbours without due consideration of the physical or moral safety of that transfer. I cannot in any conscience commend this bill to the House.

5:16 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. Our oceans are precious. They're a vital part of our ecosystem and home to a vast range of sea life. We are an island nation. Our oceans surrounding us are important to all of us. The sea around our home is so important that it gets a mention in our national anthem: 'girt by sea'. We look to look after our waters better, and it starts with this bill targeting the loading and dumping of waste at sea.

Our oceans are not a garbage dump, but, sadly, too often they look like one. We have seen those photos of turtles caught up in plastic or other animals who live in the sea being impacted by our waste which ends up in their home. But what can sometimes go unnoticed is that it is not only the animals impacted by this. It has real impact on us as humans as well.

I know that those opposite are not particularly skilled in the area of international relations. I don't need to go into the detail of certain events like the deterioration of our relationship with our Pacific neighbours or a certain deal that was handled in a way that offended our friends in France. But the adults are here now—we on this side of the House, anyway. We know that it is important to build strong relations with countries all over the world. Climate and the environment are high on the list of priorities for many countries around the world, and it's hard for Australia to be taken seriously if we are not taking the issues important to them seriously too.

This bill implements Australia's international obligations under the 1996 protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, otherwise known at the London convention, by ratifying both the 2009 and the 2013 amendments. It has taken a while, but we will pass this bill. We will finally be doing our bit to prevent marine pollution.

The objective of this bill is simple: we'll protect our oceans and live up to what is rightfully expected of us at an international level. We will do this by regulating the loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea and the placement of artificial reefs in Australian waters. We will also prohibit the disposal of harmful materials in the ocean.

We adopt the 2009 amendment to the London convention. This amendment is to permit the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting state party to another country for the purpose of carbon sequestration in geological formations below the seabed. We also adopted the 2013 amendment. The amendment was to allow the placement of waste and other matter for marine geoengineering activity such as ocean fertilisation for the purpose of scientific research.

Research is important. Without research, we cannot find a better way of protecting our water. These amendments make it easy for research to take place, which will help us understand what methods will work in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

There are a range of ways in which science can be used to reduce carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by conducting research at sea. This could include microbubbles. This involves injection of very tiny bubbles into the ocean or into the sea foam, which will increase how much sunlight reflects off the ocean. Another strategy is to conduct marine cloud brightening or seeding, which means injecting sea salt into clouds to reflect sunlight back into space. Activities such as ocean alkalinisation are also being explored. This means adding alkaline substance to the seawater to enhance the ocean's natural carbon sink. There is also the possibility of micro-algae cultivation, which is the large-scale growth of algae that converts dissolved carbon dioxide into organic carbon through photosynthesis.

Science is incredible, and it is amazing to think how advanced we are as humans. Science will only continue to become more advanced but only if we allow activities like these to be tested so that we know what works and what doesn't work so that we can make improvements. Climate change is the biggest threat facing us as humans, and science is right at the forefront of fighting against it. It is important to reduce the emissions that we create, but we will get so much further in our battle against climate change if we develop ways to take out even more of the carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere at the same time as reducing how much we put into it. These activities at sea need to happen so we know how we can best do this. They may sound like they are massive projects and difficult to understand, but the permits can only be granted after they have gone through the significant application assessment and approval process which makes sure that these kinds of activities are in accordance with the London protocol and have minimal impact on the marine environment in the Australian waters. It is also important to note that we as a country are bound by the London protocol, as we are a contracting party. This isn't new. It is already referenced in the sea dumping act. This means that any potential projects must go through extensive environmental impact assessment in accordance with the 2012 specific guidelines and the London protocol's risk assessment management framework. This bill will mean that Australia will be able to start to develop a domestic framework which will allow the government to give permits so that these kinds of scientific activities, which are emerging, are able to take place with legal certainty.

We won't know how far we can go when it comes to taking carbon out of the atmosphere if we don't have any way which allows us to regulate and allow these kinds of activities to happen. Both the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London Convention were subject to a recent enquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water. As a member of this standing committee, we recommended that these amendments be enacted in the Australian law for both environmental and regional foreign-policy reasons. It was also recommended in an independent policy insight paper from the Climate Change Authority in April 2023 that these amendments be introduced. That is what this bill is doing. This bill is good for the environment, and it is very good for our international reputation. It's a win all around.

Of course, this is not the only piece of legislation which looks at activities at sea. These laws would work alongside 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's all about strengthening our current laws as well. It's important to point out that domestic offshore carbon capture utilisation and storage can currently occur under existing laws. No project has reached a final investment decision just yet, but it is likely that any offshore project would occur through these domestic mechanisms long before any transboundary project. The consequences of this bill not going through are concerning.

Researchers are very keen to do what they do best: conduct research. Some may look at the loopholes and create their own initiatives to undertake unregulated activities. This is no fantasy story because it's already happening with marine geo-engineering activities. More oversight will be beneficial when these activities increase in scale. Without the regulation that this bill will provide, we risk great harm to the marine environment from these activities. I want to see us move forward and make these amazing scientific and technological advances and I want to see this create an answer to climate change, but I don't want to see our attempts to fix one issue create a new issue. That is why this bill needs to pass.

We need an application, assessment and permitting system with monitoring and compliance processes. Carbon capture projects are only a small part of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but it is an important part. All of the advice 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 the CSIRO. And it fits in perfectly alongside what our government has already done in decarbonising our economy responsibly and in line with our international obligations. This bill is about ensuring that it's done in the most rigorous regulatory framework.

What we are not doing is what the former government did. Those opposite provided wasteful public subsidies for the commercial development of carbon capture and storage. What we have done is cut the $250 million of government subsidies for carbon capture programs. Our large resource companies have more than enough capital and expertise to accelerate commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage. These projects must stack up economically for the industry, without any government subsidies, and meet all domestic and international environment approvals.

But it is important to note before the House that carbon capture projects are, and should only be, a small part of our emissions reduction plan. Our government hasn't wasted any time in getting on with the job of decarbonising our economy responsibly and in line with international obligations—and it's a tough job. We are catching up on a wasted decade of climate inaction, but since the Labor government was elected we have legislated our emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030, with a key path to net zero by 2050 set out in law. We have passed the safeguards mechanism to ensure that our heavy emitters fit within the pathway to net zero, but we have consulted far and wide and have done this with industry input.

We have doubled the rate of renewable energy approvals and we are just getting started. We have started the process of rewriting our environmental laws to put our environment on a nature-positive trajectory. We are investing $2 billion into green hydrogen, as part of the budget. We have committed $1.6 billion for homes and small businesses to electrify. We are supporting more EVs. We have committed $20 billion for Rewiring the Nation. We have started establishing new offshore wind projects around the country, including off the coast of the Hunter. We have now committed $3 billion to the National Reconstruction Fund for renewables and low-emission technology—something that those opposite voted against.

My electorate is home to the biggest saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere, which leads straight out to sea. This is the beautiful Lake Macquarie. Protecting our waters is important to many people in my electorate, especially those who call the towns and suburbs around the lake home. It's also something that's important to me. The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 is a crucial step on our journey towards a more sustainable and resilient planet. Together, we can make a difference and safeguard the beauty and diversity of our oceans for generations to come. I commend this bill to the House.

5:29 pm

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to continue doing one of the most important things the community of Mackellar elected me to do, and that's to fight for stronger action on climate change. This bill, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, is as confounding as its title suggests. Are we dumping carbon in the sea to protect the marine environment? Isn't carbon capture and storage an old and failed technology? Rather than fight climate change, won't this bill make it worse by enabling more gas mines to proceed?

The government says it is introducing the bill to give effect to Australia's obligations arising out of the 2009 amendment to the 1996 London protocol. 'London protocol' is shorthand for the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. This is where it gets confusing. The 2009 amendment to the London protocol has never been ratified. It was introduced to create an exemption for the export of carbon dioxide streams to another country for carbon capture and storage, or CCS. The 2009 amendment is not in force. It has never been ratified and it won't come into force until two-thirds of the parties to the London protocol have accepted it, and so far only 10 out of the 53 contracting parties to the protocol have done so. So the government's first justification for this bill just does not stack up.

The purpose of the London protocol was to protect the marine environment. It expressly prohibits incineration at sea and the export of wastes and other matter for the purpose of ocean dumping. The unratified 2009 amendment allows for certain materials to be considered for dumping, including—and importantly for our purposes—carbon dioxide streams for sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations. In layman's terms, that means that the protocol permits, in certain circumstances, the dumping of carbon into sub-seabed geological formations, and it allows carbon to be exported for that purpose.

Why now? Why would the government seek to give effect to a 2009 amendment which is not even in force, and do it prior to reforming our flawed national environment laws, which could provide additional layers of protection for our marine environment? The answer is simple. A few months ago, as a result of pressure from the crossbenchers of both the House and the Senate, the government was forced to bring in amendments to improve the safeguard mechanism. One of those amendments dictates that all new gas facilities must be net zero from the start of operations and remain net zero for the life of the project. This had the climate-positive effect of putting a spanner in the works of upcoming but not yet approved gas projects, like Santos's Barossa project.

So let's talk about the Barossa gas project. This gas field is proposed to be developed in the pristine waters north of the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. If developed, it will be one of the most polluting offshore gas projects in the world, releasing 15.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That is because not only will it be a colossal project in size; Barossa's gas also has a very high level of carbon dioxide in it, far higher than any other gas project in the country, as much as 1.5 tonnes of carbon for every one tonne of gas. That's right, Mr Deputy Speaker: it may produce more carbon dioxide than the methane gas it is trying to extract.

On top of the climate impact, the pipeline connecting the Barossa gas field to the land poses a major threat to turtle hatchlings and nesting beaches, as it will involve extensive seabed disturbance, dredging, increased shipping and helicopter movements over the islands, and significant noise and light pollution.

But back to the safeguard mechanism. The amendments to the safeguard mechanism were introduced to be the major lever that would allow Australia to meet our 2030 climate targets. Being a new gas project, under the amended safeguard mechanism the Barossa gas field would be allowed to operate only if it were net zero for scope 1 emissions from initiation—that is, net zero for emissions that are created when the gas is being mined; it doesn't include those emissions that come from burning the gas overseas.

This amendment to the safeguard mechanism made Santos and other investors in the project understandably anxious, as it made Barossa's gas project far less viable. This new safeguard rule has unsettled investor countries such as Japan, which rely heavily on the importation of Australian gas—so much so that, just one month ago, the Australian Financial Review reported that Japan had requested the Barossa gas project be exempted from the safeguard mechanism.

So how does such a highly polluting gas project operate on a carbon neutral basis? Reducing its emissions is very difficult, so instead it needs to sequester them. In other words, it needs to capture the carbon and store it somewhere, such as under a seabed. Enter this bill, the sea-dumping amendment bill 2023. This bill will enable the export of gas for sequestration under the seabed of other countries. It will enable emissions from the Barossa gas project to be shipped away to Timor-Leste who will store the carbon dioxide under the seabed on our behalf. In other words, this bill enables the Barossa gas project to go ahead when, because of the safeguard mechanism, it may not have. It is the very exception to the safeguard mechanism that Japan was seeking—except it has happened by the back door. In essence, with the sea-dumping bill, the government is creating a pathway for new gas mines to proceed. This pathway relies upon flawed, unproven technology—carbon capture and storage—which has been shown time and again to fail.

As everyone with even a passing interest in climate change knows, carbon capture and storage is not new and, as everyone also knows, it does not work. Chevron's Gorgon gas project was approved on the basis of its carbon capture and storage technology, which Chevron promised would store 80 per cent of the carbon emissions released during the mining process. The Gorgon gas project has since become infamous for the repeated and unmitigated failure of its carbon capture and storage technology. It is universally recognised as a monumental failure. By mid-2020, Chevron had spent a staggering $3 billion on that CCS technology, making it one of the costliest CCS facilities in the world, and it didn't even work.

Norway's experience of carbon capture and storage also raises major alarm bells. In one of Norway's carbon capture and storage projects, the sequestered CO2 has already risen 220 metres up through the sedimentary rock of the seabed. Far from being captured, it's migrating. Secondly, a site that was touted to be able to store 18 years worth of carbon dioxide emissions looks like it'll run out of capacity after just two years. Carbon capture and storage is unproven and in many cases is a failed technology.

It is also alarming that, in tandem with this sea-dumping bill, the Minister for Industry and Science has been opening up huge areas of our ocean floor acreage for exploration for carbon capture and storage sites. This means two things at least. Firstly, our marine environments will be subjected to more seismic blasting, and secondly, it is yet another step enabling polluting gas mines to proceed. If all this isn't dire enough, none of what I've discussed so far deals with scope 3 emissions that result from the actual burning of the gas once we ship it overseas. And this represents the vast majority of emissions from gas—over 85 per cent.

So here we are on climate action, or inaction: one step forward, two steps back. This government has a foot in each camp, pretending to act on climate change and at the same time approving and enabling new fossil fuel projects and mines. This sea-dumping bill is a dangerous enabler. It is a dangerous enabler because it allows for polluting gas projects to proceed based on flawed and unproven carbon capture and storage technology, and it does not deal at all with scope 3 emissions.

All of this is occurring at a time when the UN Secretary-General has warned that we've entered an era of global boiling. Can you get any clearer than that? We have been warned, repeatedly, that there must be no new oil, gas or coal mines if we are to leave a liveable planet for our children and future generations. Rather than being beholden to the fossil fuel industry, this government needs to start taking these warnings seriously and stop enabling and approving new fossil fuel mines.

5:40 pm

Photo of Tania LawrenceTania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For the first time in 10 years, Australia has a government prepared to make the necessary and sometimes difficult decisions to help combat climate change. There are many ways in which governments around the world can address climate change, and at last an Australian government has started to address it in serious, meaningful and many varied ways: legislating for emissions reduction targets, a safeguard mechanism with teeth, substantial investments across a swathe of renewable technologies and transmission as well as research and innovation. We are taking part in the COP meetings with pride again and, hopefully, will host COP in 2026. We've entered into many international agreements, such as the Global Methane Pledge and the Climate Club, and just a fortnight ago Minister Bowen visited India, Korea and Japan to collaborate on clean energy initiatives.

This amendment before the House is another step along the road to making Australia a leader on climate change. It needs to be understood in that context. It is one measure being adopted by a government that understands the need to take action on many fronts at the same time and one that understands its duty to enact evidence based policy. It's a refreshing situation. Will there be a growing international CCS market as a result of this legislation? Will there be much marine geoengineering as a result? We don't know. We are creating the necessary legislative environment. We are getting ahead of the game. We are taking the threat seriously and turning over every stone to ensure that we are in the best position we can be to regulate new technologies and industries.

What we are not doing is somehow waiting for the technology to be perfect or trying to point the finger at oil and gas companies that have supplied the energy that all of us use every day. It's okay to be critical, but it's also important to recognise that government and industry need to work together to overcome these challenges. Governments are bound to take heed of all emergent technologies that provide options for addressing climate change. Governments have a duty to form policy on the best available evidence.

Do Independents and minor parties need to do that? I would argue they should, even though they don't carry the same burden. The brave thing to do, for those opposing this legislation, would be to try to have the difficult conversation with their constituents and the supporters who are passionate and engaged on climate change and the environment—there are many in my own electorate and within the Labor Party membership—to have the difficult conversation that combating climate change is more than slogans. It's complex, nuanced and multifaceted. There are many stakeholders and interests, and the government is doing the work. In this instance, it requires us to create predictable legal frameworks that will be used to ensure a rigid and robust oversight over carbon capture, utilisation and storage technology that will certainly be part of the net zero mix.

The wrongheadedness of this opposition to the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 is underscored by the fact that CCS is legally regulated for domestic operations. The amendment will allow the development of an international market. To oppose it is simply to say, 'Well, we acknowledge that CCS is happening in Australia, which Geoscience Australia, after 20 years of study, tells us has good geology for this in many places, both on- and offshore, but we don't want to inject carbon from other countries whose geology may be unsuitable.' It's the international version of 'Not in my backyard'. The provisions of the amendment refer to both carbon export and marine geoengineering. In both cases, a strict regime with cumulative provisions restricts the granting of a permit by the minister. Opposing this bill is opposing robust regulation and limiting the opportunities we have to address climate change.

It is worth reiterating that once the legislation before us has gone through the parliament it will operate in concert with the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the existing provisions of the sea dumping act and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. With that in mind, it is also worth reiterating that offshore carbon capture, utilisation and storage can already occur under these existing laws. Should this bill not be introduced, there would be no ability for the government to implement a robust regulatory framework, leaving the door wide open for operators to look for loopholes to undertake unregulated activities.

As it has been established that CCUS will play an important role in our journey to net zero, there is great risk in taking an unregulated approach, to allowing operations to exist outside of the oversight of our existing environmental and conservation acts. As a responsible government we want to ensure that we have in place a comprehensive and robust regulatory framework, including stringent application, assessment and permitting systems with strong oversight, monitoring and compliance processes.

It's also opposition to leadership in this space internationally. In many areas, thanks mainly to the denialism and hopelessness of the coalition on climate change policy over more than 10 years and partly to the failure of the Greens during the Rudd prime ministership, Australia is really playing catch-up. We will be the beneficiaries of technologies developed overseas—sometimes developed overseas by Australian companies.

These changes, together with further support for the London protocol, will encourage support from other countries and ensure that the international regulatory environment is secure. A secure and robust regulatory framework supports research and development. In every area I mentioned at the outset—from solar and wind power generation to EVs and energy storage and transmission systems—ongoing research and development is part and parcel of the future of that particular technology having its greatest impact in the fight to keep the temperature rise down. We need every tool on the table here. It is disingenuous for the Greens and some Independents to pretend that we don't or that winning this war is just a matter of planting more trees.

A strictly regulated international CCS market will enable this technology its best chance of attracting further investment, research and development. It doesn't mandate the tech or direct investment by private firms or governments, rather it allows for the technology to prove itself. Members of this place always need to be prepared to accept the evidence, even if it makes them uncomfortable. At the end of the day we need to be able to return to the science. Sometimes that means forgoing some of the political mileage that might be made from playing up to one constituency or another.

Geoscience Australia describes carbon capture, utilisation and storage as one of the technologies that can help to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Further, CSIRO state in their recent report Australia's carbon sequestration potential that the sequestration potential with geological storage is high and offers a very long-term option. They note that CCS projects have reached the operational stage in many places around the world. They describe the technology as 'well developed'. They do note that there have been problems in practice. But that should not be an obstacle to pass legislation that seeks to create a robust regulatory regime. In their article entitled 'Developing best practice monitoring methods for offshore carbon sequestration' CSIRO described CCS as an 'exciting and rapidly expanding area of opportunity'.

The House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water considered that the evidence about the benefits of the import and export of CO2 was convincing. That committee was addressed by Geoscience Australia. I can think of no better source on this topic. Their evidence was that 'Australia is endowed richly with the right geology for the safe and secure underground storage of CO2' and 'CCS should be deployed in a reasonable manner alongside serious decarbonisation targets'. And in response to a direct query from the member for Warringah, Geoscience described CCS as a 'very mature technology'.

In submissions to the inquiry into Australia's transition to a green energy superpower by the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, of which I am a member, many organisations have pushed us to be ambitious and to think beyond our shores.

The Clean Energy Council warned that current planning is centred on domestic needs rather than global opportunities. The University of Queensland suggested that it was increasingly important to think at the system level about enabling technologies and value chains. The University of Adelaide accentuated the importance of maintaining a technology-agnostic framework on the path to net zero. And the Heavy Industry Low-carbon Transition Cooperative Research Centre stated that one of the most important roles for government would be in the establishment of new regulatory frameworks. In a recent report the Climate Change Authority described sequestration as 'a necessary part of any rapid, urgent decarbonisation' and underlined the fact that global demand would present economic opportunities for Australia.

This legislation puts us in a position to progress these ambitions. As nations across the globe and particularly in our region look to drastically and rapidly decarbonise their economies, they are looking to Australia. They are looking to our vast capacity to produce cheap, reliable, green energy, and this government is here to ensure that we harness that opportunity to become the regional green energy superpower that we have the courage to imagine we can be. This amending bill is part of that picture. It foreshadows a way in which we might become a part of a partnership with our neighbours to decarbonise. The problem is global, and the solutions are global.

In Japan, Minister Bowen stated his view that the most important thing the government could do in the area of CCS would be to provide regulatory certainty. That's what this bill is directed to. We are no longer mere observers in this monumental shift. We are no longer a country stubbornly refusing to participate on accounts of vacuous, unscientific and outdated ideologies. We are at the table making investments, signing up to international efforts and making the legislative and regulatory amendments that are required to ensure a robust regulatory environment for all possible options to progress within. Not for the first time, I commend the Minister for the Environment and Water and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and I am proud to support this bill.

5:52 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker:

The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. The air is unbreathable.

The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.

Those are not my words. They are not the words of an environmental activist. They are not the words of someone who has let perfect be the enemy of good. They are the words of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as he reacted to the climate chaos that has unfolded over the past few weeks—chaos that has seen July recorded as the hottest month ever; fire engulfing Greece, Canada, Portugal and Algeria; oceans warming at unprecedented levels; and floods devastating Spain and Pakistan.

On Monday I stood alongside my colleagues from the crossbench and asked the government to take this crisis seriously. I called on the government to respond publicly to the evidence of rapidly increasing global heating, to urgently update their policies to reflect the reality of Australia's contribution to the climate crisis, and to develop a national adaptation plan against the climate impacts that are already being felt. We have not had a comprehensive response, and we are not seeing a level of urgency and ambition that reflects the scale of the crisis we are facing.

Instead, we have heard Labor reiterate the commitment to an emissions reduction target that is not aligned with the science and reiterate their description of a set of policies that are not sufficient to meet it. Given this, it is imperative that new legislation is brought forward to ramp up our efforts to deal with the climate crisis. The priority for this government should be to urgently bring forward the proposed reforms to the EPBC Act and to use them to deal with the twin crises of climate and nature that are facing this country. I know the minister is committed to these important environmental law reforms and is working hard with the environmental and business communities to take them forward. But that important work needs to be accelerated.

This brings me to the legislation before the House today: the so-called Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. The bill has an attractive title, but I am concerned that it does not primarily deal with new technologies and, in its current formation, it does not help us deal with climate change—in fact, it is quite the opposite. Without amendment, the primary consequence of this bill will be the continued extracting, burning and exporting of fossil fuels, but instead of taking responsibility for our actions this will allow Australian fossil fuel companies to send our carbon emissions overseas and claim that they're not our problem.

Schedule 1 of this bill allows for carbon dioxide from Australian gas projects to be exported and buried under the sea by someone else. The reason this legislation is necessary is to facilitate Santos's proposal to open a new carbon capture and storage facility in Timor-Leste, delaying the commissioning reliability of their existing gas field. But this bill is about more than one project. As indicated to the committee inquiry in submissions by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this will enable Santos's exploitation of the Barossa gas field and the expansion of the Darwin LNG hub—a project that centres on fracking the Beetaloo basin to generate fossil fuel for export. These are fossil fuel projects that DFAT say will be supported by this legislation. This is not ambitious climate action.

The proponents of this bill argue that the expansion of new gas projects for export is not a climate concern because carbon capture and storage technology will mean the emissions generated can be buried under the sea. It's the government's faith in carbon capture and storage which is at the centre of this bill. I am not against carbon capture and storage in principle. We are going to need a range of technologies to fight climate change, and perhaps this is one of them. The problem is carbon capture and storage doesn't work yet, and if it doesn't yet work as it is intended, if it's failing to work even in Australia under the close supervision of the Australian government, then there are real risks of sending our carbon overseas to be processed in a process that we don't yet know actually works. That is the fundamental reason I am objecting to this bill.

CCS is not a new technology. It has been around since the 1970s and it has consistently failed to live up to the benefits that fossil fuel companies have claimed. For a start, CCS has the potential to capture only a small fraction—around 10 per cent—of the total life-cycle emissions from the export and use of fossil fuels. That's because most emissions are generated when the gas is burned. But even just looking at that small fraction, the performance of CCS globally has been very poor. Take Australia for example: we have only one commercial CCS facility operating in this country—Chevron's Gorgon facility—and it has been an expensive and abject failure. When the facility was created it was intended to bury 80 per cent of the emissions from the Gorgon gas fields. However, since being operational, independent estimates suggest it has captured as little as five per cent of the lifecycle emissions generated, and even Chevron admits it is operating at only one-third capacity. That's despite billions of dollars of investment, including $60 million from Australian taxpayers—the same Australian taxpayers who spent $790 million supporting CCS projects under the Morrison government and who are now forking out another $1.5 billion in subsidies to the Middle Arm petrochemical hub.

CCS is unproven technology in Australia, despite our long history of fossil fuel extraction and despite millions of dollars in government subsidies. And CCS is definitely an unproven technology in Timor-Leste, which does not have the same level of expertise in the resources sector, does not have the same strong environmental laws, does not have the same level of government capacity to regulate, and is also not a signatory to the London protocol. By passing this legislation, the government will be taking a significant risk, and that is the concern I have. We will be facilitating Santos's project in Timor-Leste, exploitation of the Barossa gas field and the fracking of the Beetaloo basin in the hope that CCS will work effectively in Timor-Leste when it has failed in Australia.

In the litany of measures that we could be taking to address the climate crisis, this should not be high up on our list.

Let me close by addressing the argument that ratifying the 2009 amendment to the London protocol, which this bill does, is vital to Australia's reputation on climate action. There are 53 contracting parties to the London protocol and, 14 years after this amendment was first proposed, only 10 states have ratified it. Those 10 don't include our partners in the Pacific, for whom climate change is an existential threat; don't include Greece, Croatia, Portugal, Italy, or Algeria, where wildfires are blazing; and certainly don't include Timor-Leste, the country we are hoping will bury our emissions for us. Australia's international reputation on climate will be restored when we take real action to address the climate crisis, not by facilitating the opening of more new gas projects.

So, as I said before, if the government is passionate about CCS, if the gas industry is passionate about CCS, make it work in Australia first and then consider whether it's appropriate to consider export. But it is not yet working in Australia, and there is significant risk if you export it overseas. I also want to raise the issue that some others have raised: that this prevents the development of CCS in Australia. Nothing in the current form stops Australia from developing effective CCS technology nor actually importing carbon from other places and burying it here. We still have the ability to grow the CCS industry in Australia, including importing gases that we bury, if we so desire and if the technology works. Those are not arguments to say that the bill should be passed.

There are conditions under which I would or may support this bill: if the legislation were amended such that it only applied to projects that generated negative emissions—that is, the removing of existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere—if CCS were a successful, proven technology in removing carbon dioxide, if the legislation were amended to stop taxpayers' money being used to subsidise CCS projects, if the legislation were amended to guarantee proper safeguards that ensure the efficacy of the technology both in Australia and in Timor-Leste, if Timor-Leste were a signatory of the London Protocol and if the government first passed stronger environmental laws so that we had a guarantee that future proposals for new fossil fuel projects would be properly assessed for their climate and environmental impact. Many of these are crossbench amendments that are on the table—amendments that the government could accept—and, unless the government backs them, I cannot support this legislation.

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.

6:14 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. As is often the case, it's a fairly cute title, because, when you say that this is about new technologies to fight climate change, there should be a lot more detail and some protections actually in the legislation, and that is detail that's not there at this point—and I will get to that.

For people listening or watching: the bill implements amendments to the international framework under the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol. The London protocol aims to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and take practical steps to prevent pollution of the sea through the dumping of waste and other matter. I know for so many around Australia, but particularly in Warringah, the health of our oceans is incredibly important. We care a lot. We actually have the Sydney Institute of Marine Science locally, at Chowder Bay, doing amazing work in conservation and restoration. The health of the oceans is incredibly important. I note that there has in fact been a call for there to be a minister of oceans. We currently have the Minister for the Environment and Water, but we don't have a minister for oceans, noting the incredibly important role the ocean plays in our environment and in setting the climate around the world.

This bill provides for the amendment of Australian laws under the London protocol to allow for the issue of permits for the export of carbon dioxide streams. We've heard a lot of members from the government side talk about this really being about putting protections around marine geoengineering and all the other things that do come under this bill. But more important is the fact that it does permit the export of carbon dioxide streams and subsea-level carbon capture and storage. What we don't have in this, in fact, but there are a number of amendments put forward, is the provision of protections around that. If we want to be true to the title of this bill, to say that it is using new technologies to fight climate change, then those amendments should be included and the government should be accepting them.

At the moment, it allows for carbon dioxide streams from carbon capture processes to be exported for the purpose of sequestration into subseabed geological formations. The bill also allows the issue of permits for the placement of waste and other material for marine geoengineering activity for the purpose of scientific research. These would implement the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol. I should say for everyone's benefit that only 10 parties have ratified the 2009 amendment to the London protocol: Norway, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, the Republic of Korea and Belgium.

Despite the name of this bill and using all technologies to fight climate change, as I've said it is only with the amendments that it can actually do that. I have significant concerns that this bill will be used to enable prolonged use of fossil fuels. For the past two decades, Australian governments have been telling us that commercial-scale carbon capture and storage technology is a legitimate way to reduce emissions. That is a unicorn. It is a fallacy. It has failed. It is a myth peddled by the fossil fuel industry to justify their continued expansion. Despite tens of billions of dollars of investment, commercial scale CCS has been a complete failure. Its exponents tell us we can keep burning fossil fuels and simply pump the emissions underground—it's as easy as that! We know that commercial scale CCS is a lie told by the fossil fuel industry and their political representatives to justify new planet-wrecking coal, oil and gas projects.

Chevron used the lie of commercial-scale CCS to gain the social licence and approval for the massive Gorgon carbon bomb. Despite investing some $3.2 billion into what is now the largest CCS project in the world, recent reports show that the project's emissions have increased by more than 50 per cent, with a sharp drop in the amount of CO2 stored underground over the last three years. But has there been any consequence for that failure to deliver the sequestration that was a condition and a part of the approval? No. Chevron was allowed to build its $81 billion gas export hub, on the condition that it was capable of storing all the carbon dioxide from its offshore reservoirs and, as a minimum, implementing all practical means to bury at least 80 per cent of the greenhouse gas.

In the 12 months to June 2022, Chevron injected underground just 1.6 million tonnes of reservoir CO2 and vented into the atmosphere some 3.4 million tonnes. That is from their own report. In the six years since the export of liquified natural gas started from Gorgon, 20.4 million tonnes of CO2 has been extracted from the natural gas piped from offshore to Barrow Island but only 6.5 million tonnes is now stored under the island.

This project is a case study of the lie that is CCS and why I am concerned that this technology leads to greater emissions by enabling the approval of new fossil fuel projects. If this legislation is used to facilitate that to continue, this is not new technology to fight climate change; it is new technology to lie and increase the risk and the consequences of fossil fuel burning and climate change. Imagine the real impact that $3.2 billion could have had if it were spent on actual legitimate projects that get us off fossil fuels rather than this complex, failing concept that allows gas companies to pretend that they are actually tackling their emissions when they instead are throwing accelerating fuel on increased temperatures and global warming.

There is a great fear among many that the Middle Arm project in the Northern Territory is a driver of enabling the fracking of the Beetaloo basin, widely acknowledged as an absolute methane carbon bomb in the making, and Middle Arm underpins the claims by companies advocating to frack the Beetaloo basin that it will somehow get net zero gas. So this bill could further enable the dumping of carbon under the sea of carbon captured at Middle Arm from the processing of Beetaloo gas.

There are fears that this bill will enable the expansion of the Barossa gas field and the export of carbon dioxide to Timor-Leste to be dumped in the seabed in their waters. Santos is leading the development of Barossa, which has a high CO2 concentration of 18 per cent. Santos also has a depleted gas field in Bayu-Undan in Timor-Leste. If Santos, through this legislation, can claim to be net zero by exporting the carbon emissions from Barossa to Bauy-Undan, they believe they will have social licence to develop the Barossa field. Yet, as the Gorgon experience has proven, this type of technology is prohibitively costly, highly ineffective and does not deliver the carbon capture and storage that is promised. But it is continually used as a carrot and as justification for further approvals.

These fears don't come from nothing. The fears are the result of the language of members of the Labor Party continuing to enable and promote the expansion of fossil fuels. As the world burns, members of the Labor Party, including the Treasurer just recently, continue to peddle the dangerous lie that gas is somehow part of the energy transition. It was highly disturbing to hear the Northern Territory Chief Minister this week frame projects like the Middle Arm gas precinct as an 'opportunity for energy transition'. These are gas industry talking points coming out of the mouth of Labor Party politicians. Such language can only remind us all of Scott Morrison's gas led recovery and the coalition's obsession with gas. This kind of pro-gas language leads many people to conclude that, like Scott Morrison's coalition government, Anthony Albanese's Labor government has been completely captured by the fossil fuel industry.

It is deceptive and dangerous for politicians to continue telling the public that carbon capture and storage can offset new fossil fuel projects, especially its expansion of gas fracking and extraction. It is especially dangerous to continue these lies given recent global air and sea temperature data which appears to show that the world has entered a new phase of accelerated global warming. Using CCS to justify new gas projects at the same time as the UN Secretary-General says that we have entered the era of global boiling is utterly reckless and negligent.

Beyond the climate impacts, there are significant environmental concerns with this technology. The EDO submitted that the drilling and laying of pipelines in offshore locations may pose significant threats to offshore ecosystems. In the event of leaking carbon dioxide from CCS activities, the environmental impact on marine environments could be significant. This would be compounded if prolonged leaks occurred or were inadequately monitored or managed. Leaking CO2 risks causing acidification of the water around the CCS site.

CO2 leakages lead to CO2 dissolving into seawater and decreasing seawater pH, with the effect of acidifying the marine environment. Further, there are significant concerns about the lack of knowledge about geoengineering in a marine environment. Ocean fertilisation could have unintended consequences, such as ocean acidification, algae blooms and depletion of oxygen in deep waters. These are just some of the concerns that the now Leader of the House expressed in 2013 as the minister of the environment. He argued that it needed to be treated with great care, adding also that there was potential for damage to human health. The health of our oceans is vital to the health of our planet. The Ocean Decade leadership white paper that was recently released found:

The ocean is recognised as the new economic frontier, offering opportunities for economic growth, employment, and innovation. However, unlike previously untouched areas, the ocean has not been spared from human impact. Stressors including rising sea temperatures, pollution, resource overexploitation, biodiversity loss, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events have only recently been understood and experienced by humans.

We need to build this understanding before further altering the ocean-climate nexus.

Australia has a long history of advocating for carbon capture and storage on the international stage, due largely to the influence of the fossil fuel industry in politics here. No-one can forget the Australian government stand, sponsored by a gas company, at the COP event. The 2013 London protocol amendment allowing this kind of experimentation was proposed by Australia and co-sponsored by Nigeria and the Republic of Korea on the premise that ocean fertilisation should occur for legitimate scientific research purposes only and should otherwise be prohibited. The government claims that this bill is necessary to assist Timor-Leste with their financial situation by enabling carbon dioxide to be stored in their waters as a future revenue source or for legitimate scientific research purposes, but no guardrails are included in this legislation as it currently stands. It's somewhat ironic that we're concerned about future revenue streams for Timor-Leste, in light of other allegations in this place.

There is significant pressure from our primary gas export markets, like Japan and the Republic of Korea, to permit carbon capture and storage and sub-seabed sequestration, as the geology surrounding their countries is not stable enough to support it, and they face pressures to reduce emissions. Norway has established a separate law for sub-seabed CO2 injection for storage regulations relating to the exploitation of sub-seabed reservoirs on the continental shelf. This legislation has enabled Norway's Northern Lights project, which the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has referred to as an example of how CCS has been considered globally. But, specifically, it's seen as an enabler of blue hydrogen projects. It's something that I fundamentally object to, because it requires the continuation of the fossil fuel industry.

However, we are going to enter an era when we have to talk about carbon drawdown. The truth is that atmospheric carbon dioxide already far exceeds safe levels for human civilisation. The Australian Academy of Science says that the world will need to remove greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere in order to avoid the worst-case scenarios of global warming. Scientists and entrepreneurs are continuing to work on solutions to directly capture carbon from the atmosphere through a wide range of methods, including direct air capture and electrochemical and biological approaches, to name a few. So the storage of carbon drawdown of existing emissions needs to be considered, and I believe that is where this legislation could have a role to play. We do need to start looking beyond net zero, and we should have on the agenda climate-positive outcomes. So we need to talk about greenhouse gas removal and negative emissions, but for that you need the government. If the government was legitimate in wanting to say this was about climate action, then the amendments proposed would ensure that these can be used only for greenhouse gas removal and negative emissions and not for an offset or to justify any future fossil fuel projects or expansion of fossil fuels. Then we would be able to believe the government.

6:29 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand today to speak in support of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. I speak as an engineer and as someone who has consulted the mining and resource industry on their policies and practices to address climate change. As a scientist I could say that I understand that leadership in the area of climate change is urgently needed, but the truth is I recognise this as a human.

I also understand that only Labor can deliver this policy. The recent decision by UNESCO to hold off the placing of the Great Barrier Reef on its endangered list is evidence of that. It's a shift of climate change policy in Australia. The House should be reminded that UNESCO was recommending the opposite, and was seriously considering placing the Great Barrier Reef on its endangered list. This was directly related to the Liberal government's irresponsible and lazy approach to climate change and the environment. It was a policy of inaction and delay.

The bill I speak to today is yet another example of work that did not get done under the Liberals. It's an area of policy and legislation that matters, but it was ignored and forgotten. Australians wanted to change the nation, so they changed the parliament, and the government is now changing climate change policy. This government takes the environment seriously. This government is responsible and proactive. This government is taking action without delay.

The bill I'm speaking to today is an example of a government that takes this action seriously. We are taking action to clean up the decade of oversight and neglect that is the legacy of the coalition government. Acting on climate change means preserving our special places and the inhabitants of those special places. Our oceans are a special place. We know that the ocean is critical for the regulation of the planet's climate. Climate change has significant effects on the ocean and its inhabitants. Labor is also responding to change to shape our country for the future. We're working hard to deliver a sustainable future for all Australians. We need a livable planet, and there is no planet B. The Ocean Business Leaders Summit recognised the ocean as a new economic frontier that offers opportunities for economic growth, employment and innovation.

This legislation is responsible. This bill will tackle our immediate and long-term commitment to preserving our unique marine environment. This bill will implement Australia's international obligations in the control of waste in our ocean. Australia has obligations under the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972—also known as the London protocol. Australia, along with 86 other state parties, agreed to modernise the 1972 convention. It's committed to prohibiting all sea dumping except for acceptable wastes on the reserve list. The International Maritime Organization explains that materials on the reserve list, including dredged material; sewage sludge; fish wastes; inert, inorganic geological material, such as mining wastes; organic material of natural origin; and carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide capture processes, are all subject to strict regulatory assessment procedures. Groundbreaking steps by parties to the protocol establish the steps that would mitigate the impacts of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by amendments that would regulate carbon capture and sequestration. It was a commitment by the international community to respond to new issues that impact the marine environment.

The 2009 amendments to the London protocol put in place regulatory responses to the risks that confront our marine environments. It will permit the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting state party to another country for the purpose of carbon sequestration in subsea geological formations. It was a commitment that Australia signed up to, and I take that commitment seriously.

In the same way, the bill will adopt the 2013 amendment to allow the placement of waste and other matter for marine geoengineering activity. This includes activities such as ocean fertilisation. This can be used for conducting scientific research, which is important to us for understanding the risks of damage to our ocean and what we need to put in place to protect its future.

It will enable scientific research that is legitimate. The research is necessary to determine the feasibility of methods to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. Examples of this scientific research include microbubbles which inject tiny bubbles in the ocean surface or into sea foam. This enables the increase of sunlight reflectivity. It also includes marine cloud brightening or seeding; ocean alkalisation, which relating to the PH of oceans; and macro-algae cultivation.

I believe that Australia should take its international commitments seriously. They are not token gestures and an expression of commitment to join the international community in a matter of importance to the world. This matters to the world, and therefore it matters to the Labor government. My position is consistent with the conclusions drawn by the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, which I'm now a member of. The committee recommended that the amendments be enacted in the Australian legal framework not only for the obvious environmental reasons I've outlined but also for the reason of foreign policy. I do not want to be the odd one out in the international community when it comes to action on the marine environment. The world is watching what we do, so let's be the trailblazers, not the renegades.

Australia's oceans are some of the most spectacular oceans in the world. We need to make sure that we look at the regulatory environment and make sure that the marine environment is regulated and that we understand the impacts of our policies. The bill will ensure that Australia will develop a framework that is needed to administer permits for emerging international activities in marine engineering. The regulatory framework that is proposed by this bill is comprehensive. The assessment process is robust. That is why we need to ensure that activities are monitored with legal certainty. We know that the area of marine engineering is expanding, and its growth in activities demands a regulatory response from government. Our marine environment is a part of our heritage. It's a part of our identity and it has to be a part of our future.

Labor understands that we have a responsibility, and we need to ensure that we safeguard it, to ensure that oceans remain special places for future generations. Relying on an unregulated approach would risk long-term damage. And so I commend the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, for getting done the job that the Liberals did not do. I commend her for her tireless commitment to her portfolio and leadership on environmental policy. I commend the bill to the House.

6:37 pm

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has told us that this bill, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, is non-controversial—and on the face of it, you could almost agree. The bill serves to ratify the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol of the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. The government has already committed to this ratification.

The London protocol, which has already been adopted into Australian law as the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act, bans the dumping of waste at sea except in specific instances. In 2006, the protocol was updated to provide for the storage of carbon dioxide beneath the seabed, where it is safe to do so. This was a response to the growing momentum for climate change mitigation technologies as part of the global movement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saw this as a short-term, technological option for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. The 2006 amendment has already been adopted into Australian law. However, and this is key, the 2006 amendment noted that 'ongoing regulation of the storage of carbon dioxide under the seabed was required to protect the marine environment'. The protocol urges an approach that's described as 'precautionary', with a focus on prevention where harm to the marine environment is likely. So, even in the establishment of carbon capture and storage as an exemption, the protocol made it clear that all parties agreed that ongoing regulation and a focus on prevention of harm were essential parts of any projects.

This takes us to the next amendments to the protocol, in 2009 and 2013, which this bill intends to ratify. The first amendment relates to the new ability to export carbon dioxide streams from Australia to another country for carbon capture and storage. The other amendment allows for the placement of waste or other matter in the sea for a marine geoengineering activity for the purpose of legitimate scientific research into options for climate change mitigation. Now, before I discuss the substance of this bill, I would like to reiterate that two-thirds of the 53 parties to the protocol must ratify any amendment for it to be successful. Currently, only 10 contracting parties have ratified the 2009 and 2013 amendments. So the amendments we're discussing are nowhere near being accepted by the contracting parties. Six of the 10 parties have agreed to a provisional step to make use of amendments before they enter into force. In effect, if this bill passes, Australia would have the ability to export carbon dioxide, despite this update not yet being accepted by most parties to the protocol, and the ability to export carbon dioxide to a country that isn't a party to the protocol.

Some are saying that the actual purpose of the bill is to allow Santos, as operator of the Bayu-Undan offshore facility in Timor-Leste, to receive carbon dioxide from gas projects in Australia. Others in this House have agreed that an intended consequence of this bill is a licence for companies to continue to expand fossil fuel projects in Australia because they can dump their carbon dioxide offshore. Irrespective of whether this is the actual purpose of the bill, the broader question is whether we should be able to export carbon dioxide to other countries for the purpose of carbon capture and storage.

I acknowledge that there are many sincere and genuine concerns and reservations relating to the science, processes and cost of carbon capture and storage as a way of mitigating emissions. Submissions to both the House and Senate committees have highlighted the risk of greenhouse gas leakage from exploration and transportation, and particularly the impact of acidification of surrounding marine environments and the subseabed, where leaks can occur. Environmental advocates point to the fact that carbon capture and storage trials on coal-fired power stations have never worked. The few projects that have got off the ground have grossly exceeded budget and schedule, massively underdelivered on carbon promised to be captured, and are now mostly shuttered.

So should we still be investing in carbon capture and storage, given all its problems? Well, climate change mitigation is a global imperative, and it's the firm consensus of many, both here in Australia and internationally, that we will fail to reach our emissions targets without new technologies. I know there have been, and remain, significant issues with carbon capture and storage projects and performance, but our pathway to decarbonisation requires us to persevere. Net Zero Australia reports:

The success of carbon capture depends on the industrial process to which it is applied, and the success of carbon storage is specific to the geological formation into which the CO2 is injected.

We must maintain the pressure and expectations on existing energy projects and their partners to increase their commitment in both capital and expertise to carbon capture and storage, to address the issues and roadblocks they're facing, to require them to interrogate the processes and technology further.

But this is not an invitation to open more projects. Let me be clear about this. What we absolutely cannot allow is for carbon capture and storage to be used as a justification for the ongoing approval of new fossil fuel projects, perpetuating an endless cycle of emissions. In WA, the government is deciding whether or not to approve the extension of the Burrup Hub in our beautiful north-west to continue operating until 2070. That's 20 years after our aim for a net zero Australia. This extension will set the scene for the opening of the Browse Basin, which is a huge dirty gas basin that has the potential to emit more carbon in its extraction and use than Australia's entire emissions budget from 2030 onwards.

Carbon capture and storage is one part of the decarbonisation path, but it is no silver bullet. Any legislation that increases the role of carbon capture and storage must be approached with great caution. Past government decisions, like this one, have been made in the interests of gas companies rather than the planet and the country's long-term economic interests.

It seems highly likely that this ability to export carbon dioxide will be used to extend the life of the gas industry by placing huge faith in one questionable technology rather than mitigating the minimum possible emissions.

Aside from the issues surrounding the practice of carbon capture and storage, there are also significant issues with exporting carbon dioxide to other countries, as identified by many submissions to both committees. Many concerned parties have suggested that we should not assume that receiving countries will have the same safeguards, standards and expectations of environmental protection as Australia. If projects in Australia are struggling to make CCS work, why would this be any better in Timor-Leste?

I'd like to very briefly touch on the second amendment, which allows for the placement of waste or other matter in the sea for a marine geo-engineering activity. I am concerned about the lack of regulatory certainty at both domestic and global levels for the restriction and regulation of geo-engineering activity. Marine geo-engineering carries several risks, including the possibility of yet unknown consequences and detrimental effects such as damaging toxic algae blooms, increasing ocean acidification and depleting oxygen in deep waters. I don't feel confident in supporting a bill that carries this level of risk.

In conclusion, we're rocketing into a global climate crisis and we need a global response to decarbonisation, which means we can't completely ignore carbon capture and storage as one of the tools in our decarbonisation toolbox. But we can't blindly treat it as the ticket to perpetuating our fossil fuel export economy. This bill creates the ability to exploit a problem we are creating for the world. For this bill to be a good idea we would have to believe four things: firstly, that carbon dioxide can be captured, transported and stored without leaks or unintended consequences. I am not convinced. There have been mixed results at best, with plenty of large failures on carbon capture and storage. Secondly, we would have to believe that carbon capture and storage will be used to mitigate only unavoidable emissions, not to license fossil fuel expansion. I am not convinced. Gas companies seem to be relying very heavily on it in their expansion plans. Thirdly, we would have to believe that carbon dioxide storage would be managed at least as well in a receiving country such as Timor-Leste as it would in Australia. I am not convinced. We have a hard-earned reputation as a stable jurisdiction, and other countries like Timor-Leste may make compromises that we would consider unacceptable. Fourthly, we would have to believe that a precautionary approach would be taken and that a transparent regulatory framework would follow. Again, I am not convinced. The government's continued approval of not only gas projects based on existing fields but also new sites for exploration and future development makes me very sceptical about there being a precautionary approach taken to sea-dumping in Australia.

Exporting carbon dioxide to other jurisdictions is like our recent approach to offshore processing of asylum seekers—shifting the problem out of sight to a less-regulated jurisdiction and potentially turning a blind eye to the outcomes, ignoring our international obligation to take our fair share of responsibility for a global issue. It may be that in due course we can find a level of comfort on these risks—when carbon capture and storage is proven, when our regulatory environment stops carbon capture and storage being used as an excuse to expand fossil fuels, when all our neighbours have stable and transparent environmental regulatory frameworks, and when we have a track record of taking a precautionary approach to environmental protection. That will be the time to ratify these amendments to the London protocol, but that time has not yet come.

If this bill is to pass, I urge the minister to follow the requirements of the protocol and embed a clear and transparent regulatory framework that assesses risk and demands appropriate and consistent environmental standards apply from the domestic source right to the export destination. This framework should capture any agreements between Australia and other states as well as the project parties who seek the permit and maintain carriage of the export process. It should explicitly refer to the provisions of the risk assessment and management framework for carbon dioxide sequestration already prepared by the contracting parties to the London protocol.

If this bill goes ahead, the minister must also ensure that, in line with the requirements of the protocol, Australia explicitly applies a precautionary approach to protect and preserve the marine environment from pollution. This precautionary approach must be consistently applied to the whole process to which these amendments apply, from initial evaluation through to the minister's decision to grant a permit, the domestic loading, the transportation and export processes and the ongoing environmental monitoring of the marine environment. The same lens must also be consistently applied in any application for marine geoengineering activities for scientific purposes domestically in Australia.

I will be supporting a range of amendments that attempt to tighten the regulatory framework and apply a precautionary approach, but, ultimately, I don't think the time has come to ratify these amendments by passing this bill because of the fundamental issue of carbon capture and storage being used as a licence to continue to expand fossil fuels and because of the risks and moral implications of exporting carbon dioxide.

6:50 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 seeks to regulate the carbon capture and storage industry. Once again, I find myself utterly gobsmacked at the priorities of this government. Here we are in a drastic climate crisis, and, instead of ending new fossil fuel projects—as the UN says we must—putting a climate trigger in our environmental laws, ending native forest logging nationwide or properly protecting the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray-Darling Basin—tragically, this list goes on and on—this government is instead enabling the expansion of fossil fuels by legitimising the extremely questionable carbon capture and storage technology.

This legislation appears to have been introduced to enable, to facilitate, the Santos Barossa project and related projects off Australia's northern coast. Santos claims that they require CCS technology in order to meet the targets under the government's safeguard mechanism. In other words, they're using CCS to justify the expansion of fossil fuel projects. It's well known that CCS is not a viable method of reducing emissions at scale.

Australia's largest CCS project is Chevron's Gorgon project, off the coast of Western Australia, which, despite receiving millions in taxpayer dollars and subsidies—our taxpayer dollars—is operating behind schedule and at only a third of its promised emissions reduction. Despite the fact that this promised reduction was part of the WA government's regulatory approval of the project, Chevron has so far not faced any monetary fines for this monumental failure. Even the promised emissions reduction is only a fraction of the total emissions this project is responsible for. CCS can only cover emissions involved in the production of gas before it is exported to its final destination, completely ignoring the majority of emissions that are produced when the energy is generated at the customer's end.

Gorgon is not the only CCS project that is underperforming so significantly. Projects all around the world are failing to meet their targets. There is no doubt, and it is understood widely, that this is an unreliable method of emissions reduction, but it's very popular with the fossil fuel industry as it actually allows their projects to keep being approved. To make things even worse, huge sums of Australians' taxpayer dollars have been going into the development of these projects—money that would have been better spent, obviously, investing in renewable energy, in green manufacturing and other initiatives and projects that will actually mitigate this climate crisis rather than fuel it.

It's clear now, more than ever, that climate change is not some distant threat. We're living it right now. We've all seen the reports from the Northern Hemisphere of devastating fires and heatwaves. Dozens of climate records are being smashed across the world. We've seen the hottest average temperatures ever recorded globally in this past month. Catastrophic climate change is right here, right now. It's here to stay, and it will get far, far worse unless we urgently stop opening new coal and gas projects. Is this really the future that we want? Is this really the choice that we are making?

Let's not downplay Australia's role in climate change either—another lie that the fossil fuel industry likes to propagate. We are still the world's third largest exporter of fossil fuels, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Why? Why is this happening? What could possibly be the reason for this insane, irresponsible and actually economically irrational, head-in-the-sand positioning of our government? Why? Why?

This Labor government is refusing to stop new coal and gas because they are completely in the pocket of coal and gas interests—indeed, acting like the governmental arm of the fossil fuel industry. So you'd be forgiven for thinking that this legislation had simply been drafted by Santos and handed to the environment minister to be passed as soon as possible. Think of it this way: as a pretty good return on investment for Santos, who have donated a collective $1.5 million to the major parties over the last decade. They've donated about the same amount to both Labor and the coalition—hedging their bets, so they have support no matter who is in government.

And it's not just donations to political parties. The resources minister's register of interests is enlightening reading, if you can stand it. The Minerals Council generously gifts her luxury charter flights, along with accommodation and fancy bottles of alcohol. It's a cheap date, really, for what they get in return.

That's not to mention the revolving door of personnel between the major parties and fossil fuel corporations. Take, for instance, Queensland Labor Senator Anthony Chisholm, who worked for Santos until he was elected to the Senate in 2016. His actual job description was—believe it or not—'providing advice on maintaining mainstream political support for gas amid an ongoing campaign against the coal seam gas industry by environmental and landholder groups'. I wonder what Senator Chisholm has to say about this bill.

Perhaps even more concerning, the current head of the Climate Change Authority, upon whose advice the environment minister is relying for this bill, is Grant King, who was the managing director of Origin Energy for 17 years. To me, that's a textbook example of a conflict of interest.

The environment minister and the Labor Party need to stop doing the bidding of their fossil fuel mates and start doing what the Australian people elected them do: to meaningfully act on climate change. So, rather than doing favours for Santos, the vast majority of Australians want more action on climate change and they want an end to new coal and gas projects. If the government fails to deliver, there will be dire consequences for generations to come.

6:57 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill's title, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, explains an awful lot. This bill is all about enabling approval for engineering activities that will help reduce the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This bill implements Australia's international obligations under the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, commonly known as the London protocol. There were two amendments to it, changing article 6 in 2009, which meant it would enable the export of carbon dioxide streams from one of the parties to the convention to another country for the sole purpose of sequestering that captured carbon dioxide in sub-seabed geological formations, commonly known as carbon capture and storage. The purpose of this bill is to give effect to our international obligations arising out of the amendments done in 2009 and 2013 to the London protocol. We in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water have just done an inquiry into whether we should ratify those amendments to the protocol and we've decided, yes. A Senate inquiry that it was referred to has done the same thing.

The amendments in this bill will allow a permit to be granted for the export of carbon dioxide streams or carbon capture use and storage to sequester it into sub-seabed geological formations in accordance with that protocol. Separately, it will allow the minister to approve carbon capture and storage to cross international borders so that we can accept captured carbon dioxide and store it in geological reservoirs. Likewise, we can export it.

There is a country near and dear to us, Timor-Leste, that has a sub-seabed geological formation which can take millions of tonnes of captured CO2 every year. It's not going into a little empty vacuum, which most people think it is, which, like a balloon, will slowly deflate and have it all come bubbling out. It's going into a geological formation that looks like a rock but is like sandstone. You put it in under pressure. It binds with the minerals there, and it's permanent. It doesn't just stay there with the hope that the bubble doesn't burst and it all bubbles up again. It's really quite difficult and hard to do.

The second thing is that it will allow geoengineering, but only under certain circumstances—it's being analysed; it's academic, and they're seeing if it works. I'll elaborate a bit more about that, but it's basically fertilising the sea and, in near-coastal environments, getting the right seabed grasses and everything growing so that the ocean captures more CO2. There are some subsequent minor consequential amendments and technical amendments as well.

But, for people in this chamber and those listening on the radio as they're driving home back up to Wauchope or Port Macquarie or down to Newcastle: carbon capture and storage, contrary to what is popularly put out, is a newer technology with commercial-scale projects operating around the globe. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is defined by both the august organisation called the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, as an essential tool to meet emissions targets and climate goals.

Even with full electrification, utilising new clean technologies which are even cleaner than renewables, called nuclear energy, you can decarbonise a lot of industrial processes with the industrial heat that goes up to 1,200 degrees Centigrade that you can get out of a nuclear power plant, as well as running steam turbines with five grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt generated out of nuclear energy. But if you add carbon capture and storage to your suite of measures to try and abate the CO2—some industrial processes still require gas and coal; otherwise, they don't happen. There are some things that can't be abated by electrification. But this will allow us to do millions of tonnes out of essential fossil fuel feed stocks and abate things.

To put things in a historical context, this started in the mid-1990s. It's not experimental. And they have been watching for that eventuality that I mentioned—people, at first reading, thought: 'Oh, jeez. Well, that's just delaying the inevitable. It'll just deflate and go back up and away you go. You're back to square one.' But they've been watching for that since 2000 and before, and there haven't been any incidents of it. Potentially, it could happen. Some of the pipes and the piping, when you're pushing it down under pressure, could do that. But, everywhere that it's been done, they've been watching for it, and there's no significant evidence of that.

Globally, there are 35 commercial carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects that capture nearly 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Equivalently, if you were going to try and do it by revegetating productive agricultural land and turn it into eucalypt forests, you'd need to plant two billion trees every year. You'd have to cover the country in trees. In the International Energy Agency's net zero scenario, 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 needs to be stored regularly. So, if we're going to not utilise this technology, we are crazy.

How can we help Australia provide energy and food for hundreds of millions, or, on an energy scale, billions of people? Our coal and natural gas have lifted billions of people out of poverty by providing them affordable, available electricity. But with this technology and Australia's potential sub-seabed and on-land geological formations we can pump captured CO2 out of industrial processes, like cement making and running gas and oil plants—all those things that the world still depends on. We can mitigate this. We have experience and we have really good regulation in this country; in fact, Australia often has too much regulation. In this case we have existing experience with the Gorgon project and the Bayu-Undan project in Timor-Leste. Once we've signed off on this we will have the legal framework to allow them to store millions of tonnes of CO2 for years to come. We'll also help that country get income out of the royalties from that.

We will become like Norway, which is at the leading edge of sub-seabed storage with its Longship Northern Lights project. They already are accepting captured CO2 not just for Norwegian fields but from all around Europe. Geoscience is at the cutting edge of all this evaluation, and that is another hidden gem of technology that we have in this country.

We also have all the legislation and regulation with NOPSEMA, the other bills and the EPBC Act, so this won't be happening willy-nilly.

The last thing I want to mention is the geoengineering part of what will be facilitated, with the powers deemed available for the minister to certify geoengineering. We have adopted the precautionary principle, but we reckon agreeing with the London protocol's amendment to article 6, with these laws now creating a legal framework to put it into, will allow geoengineering to be taken up in baby steps, in small, well-analysed and well-regulated projects. It involves a range of technologies that will allow a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. It involves ocean fertilisation, coastal carbon sequestration and a geoengineering technique that is totally different from CCUS or CCS. It refers to enhancement of blue carbon stocks in coastal and marine ecosystems, notably by the cultivation of macroalgae and microalgae in coastal mangroves and saltmarsh areas. We have to look at it and analyse it and see that it works, because we don't want to have unintended consequences, so the take-home message is: the geoengineering bit will only be under controlled research conditions.

There are plenty of countries in the world that don't have the sub-seabed or on-land deep geological repositories for this—places like Korea, that we supply with energy, or Japan. We have supplied energy to Japan and let them go through their industrialisation. The first export of energy to Japan from New South Wales was in 1864. We in fact empowered the industrialisation of Japan for over a hundred years. But there are many other neighbours nearby who depend on us; otherwise their society would crumble.

They wouldn't be able to survive. But with this London protocol amendment, it will allow them to do their carbon capture and storage, stick it in a boat, send it over and store it forever, in a one-way street fashion, 500 metres, 600 metres or a kilometre or two underground and permanently store it in porous rock formations, which have micro areas that the high-pressure product can go into and fix into the mineral base. Carbon capture, use and storage isn't marine geoengineering. That's a separate thing altogether.

This bill will put the legislation in place so that both those techniques can be done for the benefit of Korea, Singapore, Japan and all those places that don't have that geology. We're blessed in many ways and a lot of it is because we have provided them energy. In a way, it's quite fitting that we are managing the disposal of it.

I commend this bill to the House and I let everyone know that it's been analysed extensively, it's not experimental, it has huge commercial potential for all the countries that access it and it will be beneficial. If you're concerned about climate change, you should be advocating for carbon capture and storage.

7:11 pm

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 in front of us today attempts to legitimise carbon capture and storage as an effective climate solution. In reality this is little more than a public relations strategy for the coal and gas industry—to pretend they're doing something about the climate emergency. In Australia carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS, has been promised millions of dollars in public funding, despite incredibly poor results. It is a total flop.

A prime example of this is Chevron's Gorgon CCS project, which sits off the coast of Western Australia. This project was due to commence in 2016 but they didn't start their carbon capture until 2019. Despite being years behind schedule and only reaching one-third of their promised emissions reductions, Chevron still receives millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for their project. The Chevron example is just one of many CCS projects failing to meet their targets already. CCS is just not a viable method of reducing emissions at scale. It is a complete dud.

What I'm concerned about is that this legislation could well become an excuse to avoid genuinely effective climate action, serving the commercial interests of the multinational fossil fuel corporations that it should be targeting, not helping. I'm concerned that this bill lacks any form of essential guardrails for ministerial discretion and intervention in the permit-granting process. There is not even a requirement for basic environmental impact assessments to be undertaken when considering new carbon capture and storage projects.

Instead of drastic action on climate change, this government has, once again, spent valuable time and energy to bring forward a bill that appears to be written by the fossil fuel industry for the fossil fuel industry. Let's be clear: this bill is not about reducing emissions. This is about enabling the expansion of fossil fuels by trying to peddle extremely questionable CCS technology. As record temperatures heat the Northern Hemisphere and as the Atlantic and Antarctic regions experience dramatic departures from their standard temperatures, here comes the government paving the way for Santos to expand their Barossa Gas Project.

This government should be taking tangible, meaningful steps to fight climate change and the extinction crisis by putting an end to native forest logging and by ending the expansion of new fossil fuel projects. But here we are again, with the government prioritising legislation that facilitates the expansion of these very industries. The Greens are always willing to work productively with the government to improve legislation but, like the Nature Repair Market Bill proposal from the government earlier this year, this bill is completely ineffective. It is a show of smoke and mirrors.

We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and all we are getting is some tinkering here and some bandaid solutions there. What we need to do is to stop all new fossil fuel projects. This bill should not pass.

7:14 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

When I was elected as the member for Indi, I was given a clear mandate by the community to take meaningful action on climate change. I take this mandate very seriously. It is my responsibility, as a legislator and as an Independent member of parliament, to scrutinise each piece of legislation that comes before me on its individual merits. I ask what problem the law is aiming to solve. I seek briefings on the detail and do my best to understand the evidence underpinning the proposed law from a range of perspectives. I ask whether it's good for the nation, whether it's ethical and whether it demonstrates good governance. And I try to determine whether the people of Indi would support or oppose such a law.

I have deep concerns about the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill in its current form. The short title of the bill is 'Using new technologies to fight climate change', but I have genuine concerns that these proposed new technologies will do more harm than good for our climate and our environment. This bill will establish a regulatory system to support carbon dioxide export, allowing countries to reduce their emissions. This export is for the purpose of carbon dioxide sequestration into the seabed, known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS. The bill also allows the government to create a regulatory system to place waste into the sea for scientific research purposes—for example, research into ocean fertilisation, which aims to remove carbon dioxide from the ocean.

The government says that this bill will allow Australia to meet its international law obligations under the London protocol. The London protocol is an international agreement about protecting and preserving our marine environment. It was amended in 2009 and again in 2013 to allow countries, including Australia, to regulate new technologies to tackle climate change, like CCS and ocean fertilisation. But essentially it allows exceptions to prohibitions on dumping carbon dioxide into the ocean by allowing certain technologies to be used, and I have serious concerns about these technologies.

CCS has thus far proven to be an unreliable method for reducing carbon dioxide. It's already being used in Australia by fossil fuel companies that are seeking to sequester their carbon through the projects that generate it. But it has not been proven to actually work. For example, Chevron's Gorgon CCS project on Barrow Island in Western Australia has faced consistent challenges, resulting in a failure to come even close to meeting sequestration targets for the carbon dioxide generated by that project. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the United Nations body whose job it is to assess climate change related science—have said that CCS is expensive and there are risks of leaks from undersea storage of carbon. They emphasised that CCS must not be a substitute for decarbonisation.

I understand that the government have received advice that CCS will play a necessary role in reducing carbon emissions. I understand that this bill is about allowing CCS in a highly regulated environment so that it can be improved as technology and its risks are managed. I also understand that, despite what the minister for the environment might say, there are specific projects that will benefit from this bill. The Santos Barossa project off Darwin is very carbon intensive. Santos has stated that to comply with the Safeguard Mechanism it is developing the Bayu-Undan CCS project in East Timor's waters. The bill will allow Santos to export its carbon dioxide to East Timor for carbon capture and storage in that country's waters.

The Australia Institute says that there are just 30 operating CCS projects in the world, and 20 of those are dedicated to extracting more fossil fuels. But we need to be very careful about supporting a technology that is essentially unproven yet could allow fossil fuel mining and burning to continue. CCS doesn't actually work as promised, and we should be asking ourselves why fossil fuel companies continue to propose such projects.

I will be voting against the bill at this stage. I support the amendments of my crossbench colleagues and I urge the government to support them too. I also urge the government to consider further amendments in the Senate in line with the Greens dissenting report on the Senate inquiry into the bill, because there are clear ways to improve this bill so that CCS happens only in the rarest of circumstances and doesn't just allow fossil fuel projects to continue.

These amendments would (1) ensure there is no public funding of CCS projects, (2) require the country Australia is exporting carbon dioxide to, like Timor-Leste, to have environmental protections that are the same as or better than those in Australia, and (3) restrict the scope of ministerial discretion in deciding to issue a export permit. They would only allow export permits to be issued for negative emissions and they would require our environment laws to be strengthened before allowing export permits to be issued. I am talking in particular about the government's long-promised reforms to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. These reforms are urgently needed to ensure future projects proceed only with the strongest environmental protections behind them.

I've met with the minister's office and, in line with these conversations, I've put forward an amendment in addition to those proposed by my crossbench colleagues. My amendment would prevent CO2 export permits being granted to future fossil fuel facilities, ensuring that CCS and exporting carbon dioxide cannot be used as justification for new fossil fuel projects. The adoption of amendments proposed by me and my crossbench colleagues, as well as by me, and further amendments in the Senate would give me some assurance that under the bill we are allowing CCS to happen only in the strictest and rarest of circumstances. If these amendments were passed, that would allow me to reconsider my position on this bill.

Fossil fuel projects must end. They must not continue to be offered pathways for survival. We must decarbonise if we have any hope of staying below two degrees of warming. According to the United Nations Secretary-General, the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived, and we've just experienced the warmest July on record. The government cannot pass legislation that clearly does not reflect the real urgency of acting on climate change. I urge the government to work with the crossbench and improve this bill.

7:22 pm

Photo of Andrew WillcoxAndrew Willcox (Dawson, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to say the coalition welcomes the introduction of this bill, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. This legislation is aimed at giving expression to two sets of amendments that were made several years ago to the London protocol. In our view, these are well-intended changes. If the bill is passed, it is likely to provide Australia with improved flexibility and opportunity in relation to the import and export of carbon dioxide streams and the rapidly emerging field of marine geoengineering. In turn, these changes would be likely to enhance Australia's capacity, and indeed the capacity of other nations, to reduce carbon emissions. Isn't that what we're all about? We're all trying to work out the most efficient ways of reducing carbon emissions, whether that be renewable energy, such as through solar or wind—as long as it's being put in the right place. I believe that solar panels should be put on rooftops within the cities, rather than knocking out new vegetation—vegetation that reduces carbon emissions through photosynthesis. Wind as well—let's use those technologies.

I also believe that this country should be investing in new, high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power stations, because coal is the cheapest form of energy. Let's capture this carbon and then dispose of it appropriately. The current trajectory the Labor government is taking us on through this absolute renewable 'dream', at no real consideration to the environment, is absolutely ridiculous.

This is an ideal bill and it should definitely be passed.

Australia was a relatively early signatory to both instruments. We signed up to the London convention with effect from 1985, 10 years after it first came into international force. We became a party to the London protocol in the same year as it came into force globally, in 2006. Generally speaking, both instruments have worked effectively for us and for dozens of other countries that are signatories. However, it steadily became apparent that we needed to modernise the protocol in order to reflect the range of environmental issues and considerations in relation to the use of various emerging technology, such as carbon capture and storage; carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or CCUS; and marine engineering.

Once again, let's be very clear: coal is the cheapest form of energy. We have it abundantly available in this wonderful country of ours. We should not just be sending it overseas to let other people create the energy out of it. We should be using it within our own country through a high-efficiency, low-emission coal-fired power station, and then we could capture the carbon and dispose of it appropriately. As everyone can see at the present point in time, power prices are going through the roof. This is on the back of a promise from the Albanese Labor government—a promise made 97 times—of power being cheaper by $275. So we need to get rid of the renewable dream.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Andrew WillcoxAndrew Willcox (Dawson, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Renewables are very good. Don't get me wrong. But they need to be done in the right place. But let's affirm that power because, when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine, you need to use nuclear technology, gas-fired power stations or coal-fired power stations to provide power 24/7. That's what we need to do. Don't worry about looking at the premium time for power, which is through the middle of the day, from 10 am to 2 pm. The cheapest power 24/7 is coal. So let's use it. Let's use our vast resources in this country and have a coal-fired power station—high-efficiency, low-emissions.

This agreement has led to the agreement on the development of two separate sets of amendments to the protocol—2009 and 2013, respectively. The 2009 amendments permit the international transfer of carbon dioxide streams between countries for the purpose of placing CCS or CCUS materials in a sub-seabed geological formation. The 2013 amendment, meanwhile, allows for certain waste and matter to be deposited into a marine environment in order to facilitate scientific research through marine geoengineering activities, such as ocean fertilisation.

It's very important that Australia takes part and embraces the new technologies for carbon storage. We should be at the cutting edge of this technology. Around the world, parties to the convention and/or the protocol have taken a considerable amount of time to assess their response to these amendments. It should be stressed that this has not been a reflection of widespread or deeply entrenched resistance to such changes. Instead, countries have wanted to consider all the many potential implications that affect them. Australia has also adopted this painstaking approach. It has been sensible and correct that both coalition and Labor governments have taken a considerable amount of time and care to endorse and prepare for such changes. There are many important issues at play here, including, as many environmental groups have pointed out, the need for vigilant management and regulation of activities related to CCS, CCUS and, in particular, marine geoengineering.

In truth, work continues to be needed on assessing how Australia can potentially extract the best value from each of these forms of this endeavour.

Debate interrupted.