Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading
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 each well-intentioned changes, and we stand with the government in supporting the passage of them through the parliament. 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.
To put this bill in a broader context: along with the London convention, the London protocol is an international treaty that is aimed at protecting the world's marine environments from the dumping of wastes and other hazardous materials. Australia was a relatively early signatory to both instruments. We signed up to the London convention with effect from 1985—10 years after it came into force internationally—and we became party to the London protocol in the same year as it came into force globally, and that was in 2006. Generally speaking, both instruments have worked effectively for us and for the dozens of other countries that are signatories. However, it steadily became apparent that there was a need to modernise the protocol in order to reflect a range of environmental issues and considerations in relation to the use of various emerging technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, known as CCS; carbon capture utilisation and storage, known as CCUS; and marine geoengineering.
This led to agreement on the development of two separate amendments to the protocol, one in 2009 and one in 2013. The 2009 amendment permits the international transfer of carbon dioxide streams between countries for the purpose of placing CCS or CCUS materials into sub-seabed geological formations. The 2013 amendment, meanwhile, allows for certain wastes and matter to be deposited into a marine area in order to facilitate scientific research through marine geoengineering activities, such as ocean fertilisation.
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 the length of time it has taken is not a reflection of widespread or deeply entrenched resistance to such changes; instead, it has been because countries have wanted to consider the many potential implications and effects of them. Australia has adopted this sometimes painstaking approach too, and it is sensible that both coalition and Labor governments have taken time and care in endorsing and preparing 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 turn, work continues to be needed on assessing how Australia can practically extract the best value from each of these forms of endeavour. In all those respects the coalition is very appreciative of the work that has been undertaken, in particular by the members of three parliamentary committees over the years: the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change and Energy and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. Inquiries undertaken by each of these committees have elicited valuable information and evidence about the worth and potential environmental impacts and risks of CCS, CCUS and marine geoengineering.
Importantly, they each concluded on balance and taking into account the overwhelming majority of the evidence that had been presented to them that the 2009 and 2013 London protocol amendments have the potential to deliver a myriad of benefits to Australia and to other nations. Significantly, those benefits include the very real possibility of substantially lowering carbon emissions. That point has been expressed by expert witnesses on a frequent and repetitive basis.
We also endorse the general points included in the various recent committee inquiry reports about the need for careful monitoring, management and regulation of the kinds of activities that are subject of the bill, especially if and when they increase in frequency in relation to Australia. We do hope that the Albanese government will discharge its many responsibilities in this area sensibly and vigilantly. In the meantime, we thank them for bringing this bill to parliament, and we are happy to commend the bill to the House.
I don't think I'm exaggerating too much today by stating from the outset that I think my predecessor, the Hon. EG Whitlam AC QC, would be pleased with this piece of legislation. The reason is simple and twofold. Firstly, Gough was a great believer in ratifying international conventions. He thought they were a great way to make progress both at home and globally.
Today's bill, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill, will amend the sea dumping act to meet Australia's international obligations under the London protocol to support ratification of the 2009 and 2013 amendments. Of particular interest, of course, is that the forerunner to this protocol was the 1972 London convention, which started on 29 December 1972—27 days after Gough's first historic victory. Secondly, I think Gough Whitlam would be delighted today because of the subject: protecting the marine environment.
Through the sixties, the Bjelke-Petersen government advocated for oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. In response to this, the Whitlam government passed the Seas and Submerged Lands Act, which gave the Commonwealth authority over the states in relation to the seas surrounding Australia. The aim of Gough's legislation was clear: to block the wholesale destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. Despite efforts by the New South Wales and Queensland governments in the High Court, Gough triumphed, and the legislation was confirmed as valid and the reef was saved—forever. Then, in 1975, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created. Sadly, of course, there's a new threat. This time climate change—and not the Bjelke-Petersen government—has emerged to threaten the reef, but that's a subject for another day and another debate.
This bill will regulate the loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea and the placement of artificial reefs in Australian waters. It will also prohibit the disposal of harmful materials into the oceans that are considered harmful to the marine environment. The government realises that, while these amendments were agreed to by the parties to the protocol in 2009 and 2013 respectively, they have yet to enter into force.
The 2009 amendment was adopted to permit the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting state party to another country for the purpose of carbon sequestration into seabed geological formation, also known as carbon capture and storage. The 2013 amendment was adopted to allow the placement of waste and other matter for marine geoengineering activity, such as ocean fertilisation, for the purposes of scientific research. 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 updraft to reflect sunlight back into space; ocean alkalinisation, adding alkaline substances into seawater to enhance the ocean's natural carbon sink; and, macroalgae cultivation, large-scale growth of algae that converts dissolved carbon dioxide into organic carbon through photosynthesis.
The passing of this bill will ensure Australia is able to begin developing a robust regulatory framework.
In turn, this will enable the government to administer permits for these internationally emerging activities and ensure legal certainty. Put another way, should this not be introduced there would be no robust regulatory framework, such that operators and researchers may look for loopholes and create their own initiatives to undertake unregulated activities.
The bill makes updates to the sea dumping act to provide effective implementation and enforcement of new permits. The bill will also adopt modern drafting practices. And this bill is long overdue. Our marine environment is too precious and fragile to ignore. The ocean covers more than 70 per cent of our planet, and 97 per cent of Earth's water can be found in the ocean. Recently I was shocked to learn that even in the deepest parts of the ocean, in the Pacific's Mariana Trench, plastic waste has been found. That's 36,000 feet down, and it is a shameful indictment on how we have neglected our environment and our oceans.
We need to act now. I commend the minister on bringing this bill to the House and I also commend the widespread consultation that has been undertaken, both within government and with external stakeholders. Indeed, these amendments were the subject of a recent inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water. The committee recommended that these changes be enacted into Australian law for both environmental and regional foreign purposes. Further, the enactment of these amendments was also recommended in an independent policy insights paper from the Climate Change Authority in April 2023. Thus support for these measures in this bill is overwhelming. This member for Werriwa commends the bill to the House in the full confidence that her predecessor, the great Mr Whitlam himself, would heartily concur.
It's a pleasure to speak on the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. It's an important bill. It's a bill that the coalition supports, and we welcome the introduction of this bill. The legislation before the House 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-intentioned changes. If the bill is passed it's likely to provide Australia with improved flexibility and opportunity in relation to the import and export of carbon dioxide streams in the rapidly emerging field of marine geoengineering, and it's very important that we are able to provide these new opportunities in emerging fields such as marine geoengineering.
These changes in turn would likely enhance Australia's capacity and indeed the capacity of other nations to reduce carbon emissions. I want to put on record at this point my pleasure at the important decision made by the Morrison government to pursue net zero by 2050. Along with the London convention, the London protocol is an international treaty aimed at protecting the world's marine environments from the dumping of wastes and other hazardous matter. 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 force internationally, in 1975. We became a party to the London protocol the same year as it came into force globally, in 2006.
Generally speaking, both instruments have worked effectively for us and the dozens of other countries that have been signatories. However, it's become apparent steadily that there is a need to modernise the protocol in order to reflect the range of environmental issues and considerations in relation to the various emerging technologies, such as: carbon capture and storage; carbon capture, utilisation and storage; and marine geoengineering, which I mentioned earlier. This led to the agreement on the development of two separate sets of amendments to the protocol in 2009 and 2013, respectively. The 2009 amendment permits the international transfer of carbon dioxide streams between countries for the purpose of placing CCUS, or carbon capture, utilisation and storage, materials into sub-seabed geological formation. The 2013 amendment, meanwhile, allows for certain wastes and matter to be deposited into a marine area in order to facilitate scientific research through marine geoengineering activities, such as Ocean fertilisation.
Around the world, parties to the convention and/or protocol have taken a considerable amount of time to assess their response to these amendments. We should stress that this has not been a result of widespread or deeply entrenched resistance to such changes—it has been because countries have wanted to consider all the many potential implications that affect them. Australia, rightly, has also adopted this painstaking approach and 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 relating to CCS, CCUS and, in particular, marine geo-engineering. In turn, work continues to be needed on assessing how Australia can practically extract the best value from each of these forms of endeavour.
In all of these respects the coalition is very appreciative of the work that has been undertaken, particularly by members by each of three sets of committees that have looked at these matters over recent years. They are: the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change and Energy, and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. The inquiries undertaken by each of these committees have elicited valuable information and evidence about the worth of potential environmental impacts and risks of CCS and CCUS on marine geo-engineering. Importantly, they have each concluded—on balance, and taking into account the overwhelming majority presented to them—that the 2009 and 2013 London protocol amendments have the potential to deliver myriad benefits to Australia and other nations. Specifically, those benefits include the very real possibility of substantially lowering carbon emissions, and that point has been expressed by expert witnesses on a frequent and repetitive basis.
Given all that context and background, we on the side of the House support the bill. We also endorse the general points included in the various recent committee reports about the need for careful monitoring, management and regulation of the kinds of activities that are the subject of the bill—especially if and when they increase in frequency in relation to Australia. We call on the government to discharge its many responsibilities in this area sensibly and vigilantly. It is good to be able to speak on this bill. It's good to be able to support this bill. I commend it to the House.
I rise to speak on this important legislation for our marine environment. This bill affirms the Australian government's commitment to taking strong action against climate change. The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill is a significant step towards fulfilling Australia's international obligations under the 1996 protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter—this is a real mouthful—commonly known as the 'London convention'. This bill will ratify the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the convention, regulating the loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea while prohibiting the disposal of harmful materials into our precious oceans.
It was President Clinton who once said: 'We know that when we protect our oceans we're protecting our future,' and that is what this bill does—it protects our oceans and thereby protects our future and the future of our children. The bill is composed of two amendments that ratify our commitments to our international partners. The first, ratified in 2009, allows for the export of carbon dioxide streams for carbon sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations. This international collaboration offers nations with limited storage capacity an opportunity to contribute to global climate mitigation efforts. By sharing the burden of reducing carbon emissions, we move one step closer to achieving a sustainable and resilient future for all. The second amendment, adopted in 2013, marks an important milestone in the field of marine geo-engineering research. It allows for the placement of waste and other matter for legitimate scientific research activities aimed at exploring methods to reduce atmospheric CO2. These initiatives, such as ocean fertilisation and marine cloud brightening, have the potential to complement traditional climate mitigation strategies. However, as we venture into uncharted waters, we must tread water with caution.
The proposed regulatory framework, built on a robust application, assessment and approval process, aims to strike a delicate balance between encouraging innovative research and ensuring the protection of marine ecosystems.
By subjecting marine geoengineering activities to strict oversight, we can best avoid unintended consequences that may arise from unregulated experimentation. This framework offers legal certainty to legitimate research institutions while safeguarding the marine environment from potential harm.
I would say this bill is long overdue, given our international obligations, but I'm very pleased to hear that the opposition is supporting this bill. That's great news, and I was very happy to be here for the contribution by the member for Berowra. But, over the past few decades, we've witnessed the alarming consequences of environmental degradation and climate change on marine ecosystems, such as plastic pollution choking marine life. I think I've heard the environment minister talk about evidence that, if we're not careful, within a few years the weight of plastic in the oceans will outweigh the weight of fish, which is an alarming thing to think about. So, from plastic pollution to coral bleaching events threatening the foundation of marine biodiversity, it is evident that urgent action is needed.
It's not the responsibility of just one nation but a collective duty of all countries to safeguard oceans and combat climate change. It goes without saying that our oceans are absolutely critical for all life on Earth. Covering more than 70 per cent of the planet's surface, oceans serve as a critical regulator of climate, a source of livelihood for millions, if not billions, and a treasure trove of biodiversity. The health and wellbeing of oceans is inextricably linked to human existence.
It's important to recognise the importance of this bill and the international commitments that it encompasses. The 2009 amendment allows for the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting state to another country for carbon sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations. This means countries without sufficient storage capacity can reduce their emissions by exporting CO2 streams to countries with geologically stable storage formations. By endorsing this amendment, we open the door to innovative solutions for reducing carbon emissions on a global scale.
In 2013 an amendment was adopted to enable the placement of waste and other matter for legitimate scientific research activities related to marine geoengineering. These activities, such as ocean fertilisation, as I said, and microbubbles injection, marine cloud brightening and ocean alkalinisation, hold the potential to reduce atmospheric CO2 and contribute to climate mitigation.
But with such novel approaches comes a responsibility to regulate them thoroughly to protect our marine ecosystems. The proposed bill outlines a robust application, assessment and approval process to ensure that only legitimate scientific research activities proceed under strict oversight, minimising any potential harm to our marine environment. The passage of this bill will mark a significant milestone for Australia, enabling us to develop a comprehensive and robust regulatory framework. This will administer permits for emerging activities, providing legal certainty for businesses and organisations involved in carbon capture and storage projects or marine geoengineering research. By ratifying the amendments, we display our commitment to both environmental protection and regional foreign policy alignment, as recommended by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water and the independent policy insights paper from the Climate Change Authority.
The 2009 amendment also holds additional significance, as it supports the Bayu-Undan Carbon Capture and Storage Project, endorsed by Timor-Leste. I see the assistant minister at the table, and I'm sure that'll be of interest to him in his travels around the region. This project, aimed at reducing carbon emissions, offers both environmental and economic advantages. However, the complex legal and regulatory barriers it faces can be eased through the passage of this bill. By streamlining the permitting process and ensuring a comprehensive regulatory framework, we create an enabling environment for such sustainable initiatives to thrive.
Additionally, these amendments come with an inherent emphasis on scientific research and evidence based decision-making. As we explore novel methods of reducing atmospheric CO2, it is imperative that our actions are guided by sound scientific research and data.
The proposed regulatory framework ensures that all marine geoengineering activities are rigorously assessed for environmental impact and feasibility, providing us with a strong foundation for making informed choices. This regulatory framework ensures offshore activities occur responsibly, protecting our marine ecosystems from potential adverse effects. Without these comprehensive regulations, unscrupulous operators and researchers may exploit loopholes, leading to unregulated activities that can pose significant risks to our marine environment.
Our oceans are the lifeline of our planet, and it is our responsibility to safeguard them for future generations. By endorsing this legislation, we both fulfil our international obligations and demonstrate our determination to lead in environmental protection and sustainable development. My electorate encompasses some of the best coastlines in Australia, if not the world. It's where the land meets the Tasman Sea. The Tasman is rich in ocean life and produces seafood that is frankly second to none, but it must be looked after if it is to keep giving us its bounty. That's why this bill is so important—so we can preserve our oceans for future generations and ensure there is an environmental and economic future for our oceans.
These amendments have garnered widespread support from experts and policymakers alike, and I'm pleased that the opposition is backing them. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, after a comprehensive inquiry, recommended the enactment of these amendments for both environmental and regional foreign policy reasons. Similarly, the independent policy insights paper from the Climate Change Authority endorsed these amendments as a step towards fostering environmental protection and climate action.
The bill is a decisive step towards securing a brighter, cleaner future for our planet. By ratifying the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London convention, we can implement the framework we need that fosters responsible research and carbon capture and storage projects. So let's come together to safeguard our marine environment, combat climate change and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. We can embrace this historic opportunity to safeguard our oceans, foster innovation and climate mitigation, and uphold our responsibilities as custodians of our planet. By endorsing this bill we honour the past, we acknowledge the challenges of the present and we pave the way for a brighter, cleaner and more sustainable future for generations to come. I commend the bill to the House.
According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived. He went on to say:
The air is unbreathable, the heat is unbearable, and the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable. Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy, no more excuses, no more waiting for others to move first. There is simply no more time for that.
Whether you believe in the science or not, the reality is July was the hottest month in recorded history around the globe. Sea levels are rising, the Arctic is melting, coral reefs are dying, oceans are acidifying and forests are burning. At this stage, I don't think any of us should be arguing anymore as to what may be behind this climactic change; instead we should be focused on the reality that business as usual is not going to be enough for our planet.
We are no longer facing a climate emergency; we are living a climate emergency. Just a year ago, the people of North Sydney sent me to Canberra with a very clear priority: to argue incessantly for faster, tangible and more ambitious action on climate change, because the people living in my electorate know we must do all we can to restore and repair the environment within which we live whilst also avoiding further damage. Yet, at the same time as greenhouse gas pollution has driven global temperatures to unprecedented highs, this government has approved three new coal and gas projects in Australia. Today we are standing here and debating a piece of legislation that professes to be about environmental protection while in truth it is actually about providing an opportunity for ongoing pollution to be masked by hiding it under our seabeds.
We talk about reaching 2030 and 2050 climate targets, we talk about the road towards net zero, meeting our international obligations and embarking on major environmental law reforms. But talk is cheap, and, as Antonio Guterres says, leaders must lead. As leaders, then, and on behalf of the communities that have sent us, we need to prioritise real action. In this context, being presented with this bill at this point in time is incredibly disappointing.
Looking at the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, we need to be clear about what problem this piece of legislation is trying to solve. Having asked myself that question and having looked to others for guidance and thinking long and hard about it, it concerns me no end that the only problem I see this legislation addressing is the fossil fuel sector's need to find ways to enable it to continue to do more of the same. In its current form, this legislation does nothing in terms of lowering our overall carbon emissions. Rather, it enables those who already create the largest burdens to continue to add to them. Net zero is not carbon emission reduction. Carbon neutral is not carbon clean. In that context, this place must recognise that while this piece of legislation may need be expedited for commercial reasons associated with the ongoing operations of the fossil fuel sector it does not present the environmental protection or the urgent climate response we need to see.
My electorate in North Sydney is despairing that this government continues to show a complete lack of ambition and leadership when it comes to moving our economy and nation forward into a brave and dependable future. But still we show up; we speak up. On my community's behalf, I'm here today to say that we cannot continue to create emissions simply because we have options to dump them. We must instead focus on driving down greenhouse gas emissions, not cleaning up the mess once it's made. Ultimately, I would say that this piece of legislation is trying to solve the wrong problem. My response to this bill will therefore be viewed through that lens.
With Australia's natural environment in a state of serious decline and an increasing threat from human activity, this bill is being pushed to give effect to Australia's obligations under the London protocol. The London protocol is one of the first global conventions to protect the marine environment from human activities, with the objective to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution. Ultimately, the protocol was about protecting and preserving our marine environment, and the irony of it now being used to enable sea dumping of carbon emissions is not lost on me.
This bill proposes to establish a framework for regulating the export of carbon dioxide streams for carbon capture and storage and for marine geoengineering activities, respectively. Both technologies may fall within the broad scope of the London protocol, but, arguably, they were meant to be curtailed by it, not enabled. Ultimately, these technologies present risks that are incompatible with marine environment protection. In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change observed the risk of leaks from undersea or underground CO2 storage. This bill, then, is not an environmental protection bill; it's a profit mechanism. And it should be called just that.
The risks associated with geoengineering, specifically ocean fertilisation, are also well known. The 2013 amendment to the London protocol was proposed by Australia on the premise that it should occur only for legitimate scientific research purposes and should otherwise be prohibited. During discussions on the amendment, the Australian government at the time actually said:
The potential impacts of ocean fertilisation could be severe and may include ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, oxygen depletion in deep waters, or other unwanted ecosystem changes and human health consequences.
How then can a piece of environmental legislation possibly allow for solutions which bring with them this level of risk for environmental damage and enable continued carbon pollution? A report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water earlier this year said Australia supported the ratification of the London protocol amendments as 'a means for countries to respond to the real urgency of climate change'. As an advocate who is passionate about responding to the real urgency of climate change, I highlight a section in a report that also says:
… while CCS is one of a suite of options available for reducing CO2 emissions, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, it is not a substitute for the decarbonisation of the global economy.
The only place for carbon capture and storage is in reducing emissions from genuinely hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement and steel, where there are no other viable solutions.
Rapid decarbonisation of the global economy must be a driving force of reform if we are serious about saving our planet from irreversible climate change. So I question why, when so much vital environmental reform has been promised, we are prioritising this piece of legislation. It should not be coming ahead of the long-awaited reforms of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. As I stated earlier, as I explore why it so urgently needs to proceed, I can find only economic and contractual negotiations between commercial parties as a trigger for prioritising this legislation. The IPCC has clearly noted that carbon capture and storage presents the risk of locking in existing energy structures—that is, the continued extraction of fossil fuels.
This bill is investing in the continued production of fossil fuels, rather than rapidly phasing out our reliance on them.
Looking closer at examples of how carbon dioxide streams could be exported under this bill, I was led to the Bayu-Undan gas field. This is a project which Santos plans to repurpose for carbon capture and storage and which traverses the marine boundaries of Australia and Timor-Leste. But in whose best interest is this project? There's no way that it's serving the purpose of protecting our marine environment, nor mitigating the impacts of climate change. Indeed, Santos managing director and CEO Kevin Gallagher has said:
CCS at Bayu-Undan has potential capacity to safely and permanently store approximately 10 million tonnes per annum of CO2 and could build a new job-creating and revenue-generating industry for Timor-Leste.
How fortunate for Santos that they have the space to store the excessive emissions produced by their gas projects! This is 10 million tonnes per annum too much for our environment.
It says something quite concerning that the fossil fuel industry is largely supportive of this bill, while environment and energy non-government organisations are strongly opposed to it and consider carbon capture and storage an unproven technology designed to extend the life of the fossil fuel industry. In the words of the Wilderness Society:
Urgent environmental matters lay dormant while the needs of the fossil fuel industry leap ahead of the queue.
At the very least, this bill must be accompanied by a guarantee that these changes will not be used for the ongoing use of fossil fuels, nor to facilitate the expansion of gas developments such as Santos's Barossa offshore project. It must also provide a guarantee of greater transparency over permit applications and public consultation.
Numerous submissions to the Senate inquiry expressed concern that the bill does not contain a requirement for an environmental impact assessment of the proposed activities. As it stands, the bill has no requirement for public consultation in relation to the permit applications, notification of interest holders nor any associated requirement from the minister to have regard to comments received from the public or interest holders. It is deeply concerning that so much power is being given to the minister without these checks and balances in place.
The successful adoption of carbon capture and storage in Denmark for genuinely hard to abate sectors has been accompanied by transparent processes. A robust stakeholder consultation platform with representatives of the EU institutions, EU and third countries, NGOs, business leaders and academia has facilitated the deployment of the technologies. Without amendment, it is far from convincing that this bill presents a solution that is in the best interests of our climate and environment. It is not the appropriate investment to make in the face of our current climate emergency.
As stated by Secretary-General Guterres, it is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to avoid the very worst of climate change, but only with dramatic and immediate climate action. This bill does not present us with dramatic, immediate climate action. Carbon capture and storage has been around for decades and has consistently failed to meet expectations. So where is the science of this bill coming from? Climate science is currently telling us there are far more urgent solutions that Australia should be prioritising investment in.
While the government is saying carbon capture and storage will play a role in the transition to clean energy, I argue that this legislation will slow that transition down. North Sydney believes that the policy needs to be accelerating the transition to renewable sources of energy, getting all of our electricity from renewable generation. There is no future for gas for the country or households, and there's nothing freer and more abundant than sun, wind and hydro opportunities in this country. The undeniable truth is that renewable energy solutions are becoming cheaper and more reliable and efficient every day, while our current continued reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and harmful to the planet. We must change the way we produce energy rather than continuing to invest in technology that encourages a reliance on fossil fuel, and this requires other solutions.
The government claims this bill is crucial for supporting our regional partners' net zero goals. I put forward a statement from Professor Samantha Hepburn which questions, 'If offshore carbon capture and storage has not worked effectively in Australian waters, it's unclear how these other countries will acquire the capacity and knowledge to achieve successful carbon storage when wealthy fossil fuel companies operating in Australia could not.'
The government continue to tell us that they are committed to making positive climate policy a priority, yet, rather than tackling the real elephant in the room—that is, the rate at which our nation is continuing to contribute to global greenhouse gases—it has tried to draw our attention away and towards solutions that ultimately enable those that pollute to continue to do so. Carbon capture and storage is not new technology, and it is largely unproven. It is not the right investment.
This is not what dramatic, immediate climate action looks like and therefore it is not what Australia or our region needs right now. The premise that this legislation is for the purpose of climate action is a stretch, and the place of this bill on the road to net zero is questionable.
I conclude by repeating these words from Secretary-General Guterres:
The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.
Leaders must lead.
No more hesitancy. No more excuses. No more waiting for others to move first.
There is simply no more time for that.
We need the Australian government to look up—look up at the potential to move our country forward, look up at the need to protect Australian citizens right across this country, and look up so that we can step into the role we need to play as responsible international citizens.
I rise in support of this bill, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. As I have said before in this place, there are few bigger global challenges than addressing climate change. Reaching Australia's legislated net zero targets requires transforming every sector of the Australian economy, and, as the CSIRO makes clear, no single technology alone will get us to net zero. There is no silver bullet. It will take a mix of technologies to drive decarbonisation outcomes across our economy. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage will be an important part of that mix of technologies. To quote the International Energy Agency: 'Reaching net zero will be virtually impossible without carbon capture, utilisation and storage.'
Australian resource projects and our world-class universities are increasingly at the leading edge globally in their plans to deploy commercial-scale CCUS technologies. Despite what many may think and have said, CCUS is in fact a proven technology. Indeed, eight million tonnes of CO2 has been stored off Barrow Island on the Western Australian coast and more will be stored into the future. I fail to see how taking eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is a bad thing, as some people like to portray it.
Just last week, the Western Australian minister for resources, Bill Johnston, and I attended a symposium at Curtin University that provided many insights into some of the novel CCUS research being led out of Australian universities. We heard from Curtin PhD students Theo Alogalis, who is a young man from France, and Egi Adrian Pratama, from Indonesia, who, alongside their colleagues, are pursuing some truly groundbreaking work on microbubble carbon capture and storage technology. It was heartening to see some of our brightest minds working to advance CCUS research in this country.
It was also clear from the symposium that Japanese industry, including Tokyo Gas, Mitsui, MIMI, JERA and Osaka Gas, are firmly backing this groundbreaking research and see a strong future for CCUS in Australia. Of course, Japan have a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and they will depend on partnerships to be able to make that happen for their community and for the benefit of all of us.
To put Australian CCUS projects in a competitive position and to back in our research efforts and unlock more private sector capital, it is imperative that we invest in our regulatory frameworks to ensure that they are fit for purpose. In the last federal budget the government invested $12 million to review and modernise our offshore environmental and carbon capture and storage regulations. This timely review will help to provide regulatory and administrative certainty for projects looking to sequester carbon dioxide in Australia's offshore areas. The government's efforts to create regulatory and administrative certainty extend to ratifying our international obligations under the London protocol, and that is the ratification enabled by this bill today.
In 2009 Australia agreed an amendment to the London protocol that enables the safe export of carbon dioxide for storage in geological formations under the seabed. In 2013 another London protocol amendment, which allows for the regulation of material placed into the seabed for legitimate scientific research into marine geoengineering, was also agreed. Importantly, ratification of the 2009 amendment will help to create a commercial pathway for transboundary CCUS projects, potentially including the Bayu-Undan gas field. Revenue from the Bayu-Undan gas field, located in the Timor Sea about 500 kilometres north of Darwin, has been a major contributor to the economy of Timor-Leste over 16 years, but the Bayu-Undan reservoir is now depleted of that resource.
As a reservoir that safely held gas for millennia, it is eminently suitable to return to that role and hold gas, this time CO2, for further millennia.
This government will always be a strong supporter of Timor-Leste's economic independence and resilience. It is therefore essential that our regulatory settings enable consideration of a commercial pathway for CCUS in the Bayu-Undan field. In ratifying the 2009 amendment we join the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, the Republic of Korea, Denmark and many others who have already acted to enshrine this amendment in law. I thank the Minister for the Environment and Water for her carriage of this very important bill. I also want to acknowledge the work of the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water—and particularly the chair of that committee, the member for Makin—which recommended that the government ratify these amendments to the London protocol. I also thank Senator Grogan and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for similarly recommending that the government pass this bill. On that note, I commend this bill to the House.
Everywhere we look, there's less than meets the eye. Again, look at what the government is doing, not what it's saying—or, if you do look at what the government's saying, consider the doublespeak that's going on. Unfortunately, this sea dumping legislation, with its gimmicky and misleading subtitle, 'Using new technologies to fight climate change', is a case in point. The aspirations for carbon capture and storage are hardly new, but they're yet to be realised—if they ever will be. Yet they're central to this legislation. Billions have been spent on CCS around the world, including around $4 billion here in Australia, to little end. And while the resources minister champions CCS, other ministers are apparently agnostic—in which case, why are we committing to this very uncertain path, if they don't believe in it?
Consider the following findings from June this year regarding research into two Norwegian gas projects that store CO2 under the seabed, held up by advocates as signs of success amid a sea of other failure. Now a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis calls that into doubt, stating that due to the unpredictability of the subsurface conditions the pair cannot be used as definitive models for the future of CCS and that the IEFC's literature review of technical studies and academic papers from the 1990s to the 2020s demonstrates that, even with the most advanced data, science and monitoring, subsurface unknowns can arise at any point.
The report goes on:
The findings raise onerous implications for the scores of CCS projects planned globally, with field operators and the governments that regulate them needing to expect the unexpected, make detailed contingency plans, and ensure funding is at the ready to address materialized risks.
It's hardly a ringing endorsement, and it's worthy of close scrutiny.
At last year's election neither of the major parties really wanted to move on climate change. It was community pressure that made it happen. Labor, to their credit, then did advocate for a reduction of 43 per cent in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But that is still less than eminent experts state is needed if we're to have a hope of getting to net zero by mid-century. The climate change minister himself admits that it will be a challenge to meet even the modest target that his government has set. As for the coalition, of course they were even less ambitious. Yet still we're giving with one hand and taking with the other, cancelling out the beginnings of good policy with bad as we seek to store CO2 under the seabed to enable new projects. Forget about net zero; this makes zero sense.
With respect to the minister's comments, to be clear: using CCS, if it works, might be okay if it removes CO2 from the atmosphere, bringing about an overall reduction. Using it to offset more CO2 production? Not okay. In other words, as my colleague from North Sydney remarked, while CCS is one of a suite of options available for reducing CO2 emissions, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, it is not a substitute for decarbonisation.
In the months before the last election, communities around the country got together to activate campaigns which led to the election of the largest crossbench in the recent history of this House, with more-effective and more-rapid action on climate change central to that result.
Yet even with that outcome, even as Europe and Canada burn, we continue to try to have our cake and eat it.
This approach will not fix the problem, and this is just one of a growing list of problematic legislation. There are already real questions, for example, about the effectiveness and accountability of the government's safeguard mechanism. Will it really require the nation's 200 or so biggest polluters to change their carbon-heavy habits? Or will it enable them to use suspect carbon credits to try to account their way to zero? The challenge of climate change is not an accounting exercise. It does not allow us to change our behaviour at the margins to balance some imaginary book. It requires fundamental and rapid changes in the way we act as individuals, as families, as communities, as companies, as governments, as leaders. The same goes for the nature repair market legislation, which runs the risk of becoming a market for offsets rather than a nature-building scheme. We've now discovered that the government's plans for the petroleum resource rent tax were not Treasury's preferred approach but the option that the gas and oil producers were prepared to cop. The government should be more ambitious and seek a bigger yield than a paltry $2.4 billion over four years from multinational gas companies making superprofits from Australian resources.
The Treasurer says we need gas to assist in that transition. Okay. What we don't need is more gas, new gas. It's barely a month since the International Energy Agency declared that we must stop the exploitation and development of new oil and gas resources if we're to have even a hope of achieving net zero by 2050. At the end of the hottest July on record, the UN Secretary-General declared we're beyond global warming and now in the era of global boiling. The communities of south-eastern Australia discovered that in the black summer of 2019 and 2020. The people of the northern hemisphere are suffering it right now.
At the heart of the reason for this legislation is the Santos Barossa development, which yields gas with a very high—18 per cent—CO2 content. To make this giant project more environmentally palatable, Santos is proposing to export its CO2 via a proposed carbon capture and storage facility at Middle Arm in Darwin to the depleted Bayu-Undan gas field off Timor-Leste. In September 2021, Santos announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding to progress CCS opportunities at the Bayu-Undan site, involving repurposing of the existing facilities for CCS, with carbon dioxide streams to be captured at other gas fields in Australia's offshore areas, such as the Barossa field, and imported from other countries for injection into the Bayu-Undan field for permanent storage. Santos managing director and CEO Kevin Gallagher has said:
CCS at Bayu-Undan has potential capacity to safely and permanently store approximately 10 million tonnes per annum of CO2 and could build a new job-creating and revenue-generating industry for Timor-Leste.
I will come to the ethics of that in a moment.
First, let's look at what we already know about the real-world record of CCS in Australia. The Gorgon gas development in WA was supposed to be our poster child for CCS, approved on condition that the company capture 80 per cent of emissions, around four million tonnes of CO2 a year, and with $60 million of our money to help the scheme. So what's the record? Gorgon injected 1.6 million tonnes into the ground beneath Barrow Island last financial year, down from 2.2 million in 2020-21 and 2.7 million tonnes the year before. It's going backwards. Not only that, and not surprisingly, emissions from Gorgon climbed to 8.3 million tonnes last financial year, up from 5.5 million the year before. As IEEFA notes:
Chevron in Australia has been trying unsuccessfully since 2019 to get its massive 3.5mtpa-4mtpa Gorgon CCS project to meet promised targets of 80% CO2 capture for storage, instead venting higher rates of CO2 to the atmosphere than intended.
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In the regulatory realm, the need to assure CO2 stays in the ground permanently means CCS projects create potentially indefinite contingent liabilities.
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"With the unknowns of long-term subsurface CO2 storage, regulators could inadvertently allow material risks to be transferred to the taxpayer," Hauber says.
Despite these risks, not to mention the potential risks to the ocean itself from experimentation with things like ocean floor fertilisation to absorb more CO2, we're now being asked to support this legislation.
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 only for legitimate scientific research purposes, and should otherwise be prohibited. The then minister for the environment, now the Leader of the House in this parliament, Tony Burke, said at the time:
The potential impacts of ocean fertilisation could be severe and may include ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, oxygen depletion in deep waters, or other unwanted ecosystem changes and human health consequences.
These approaches need to be considered with great care.
There's also a sleight of hand with this legislation. Not only is it designed to enable domestic projects but the indications are that the legislation is a response, in part, to pressure from Japan and South Korea, whose geology is not stable enough to allow subterranean climate capture and storage even if the technology ever works.
Back to the ethics: what of the plans to enable the export of CO2 from the Santos Barossa gas field in the waters off the Northern Territory to Timor-Leste's depleted Bayu-Undan gas field? Part of the argument is that the revenue would help revive Dili's struggling budget. We should have thought about that before bugging Timor-Leste's cabinet room to gain an unfair financial advantage in negotiations over gas resources in the Timor Sea all those years ago. Now it appears we are incentivising Timor-Leste to accept our pollution and the risks that go with it in exchange for the prospect of a few pieces of silver. More than that, advice from the Parliamentary Library suggests that, even if this bill did not pass, Australia could still import carbon dioxide for sub-seabed sequestration under existing legislation, specifically the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The implication therefore is that this is more about exporting than about importing, that we want to 'dump', in the words of the bill, CO2 beneath the waters of a poorer, close neighbour as insurance against the possibility that we cannot find ways to sequester our own emissions within our own borders.
There is also the question of whether this legislative proposal is being used as insurance against the possibility that resources companies will need an escape route should CCS continue to fail to achieve what its promoters insist it will. One thing the revised safeguard mechanism would do is make it expensive for these big polluters if they cannot get CCS to work; in other words, as we're doing already, exporting our carbon emissions rather than taking responsibility for them right here at home. Look at what's being done, not what is being said.
I note that I've got only about a minute before we go into 90-second statements, so, rather than getting into the substance of my speech, I just want to make three opening remarks. Firstly, this legislation, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, is not solely about carbon capture and storage. Indeed, it covers a whole range of areas where we need to try to protect our seabed, and where we need to do a lot more to ensure that we can safely continue to use our ocean waters without polluting them in the way that has been occurring for years and years.
Secondly, I reject any assertion that Labor has not been committed to climate change in the past. Indeed, it has been Labor, ever since 2007, that has pushed as hard as it possibly can to ensure that Australia responds to the threat of climate change. We did that right back in 2008 and 2009 with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposal, which at the time was perhaps the most effective way to respond to the climate change threat, yet it was blocked in this parliament by none other than the Greens.
Thirdly, I simply want to make this point.
The Minister for Resources, in her contribution to the debate thus far, I believe accurately outlined why it is important and why it is needed. There is a good case to be made as to why this legislation needs to be passed by this parliament. I will talk about that later on in my remarks when I resume after the 90-second statement period and later on this afternoon.