The detail of how WA would work towards achieving its target in other areas was left for the overall state climate policy not expected for release until 2020.
The media statement released on the heels of the policy – from Energy Minister Bill Johnston, not Environment Minister Stephen Dawson – sought to clarify the contradictory rhetoric in recent months on whether WA would get its own emissions target, saying the state government’s “long held position” was it supported the federal target.
Miners, including Woodside, which led the charge against the EPA’s stronger attempt to impose guidelines requiring 100 per cent offsets, welcomed the policy, with peak oil and gas body APPEA stating it provided “some clarity” which was vitally important with “billions of dollars in future investment under consideration”.
And environmental and renewable energy advocates welcomed the announcement of a “first step” in the right direction.
But most commentators, including the state opposition, questioned the timing of the announcement, coming as it did public consultation on the EPA guidelines, and accused the government of undermining that process.
Multiple groups also pointed out a risk the policy could insulate big polluters from cutting pollution now, providing them with a free pass in the short term while cuts have to be made in the rest of the economy to reach the federal government’s 2030 target.
“An aspiration is not a commitment,” said Greens WA climate spokesman Tim Clifford.
“I sincerely hope this policy is not an attempt to undermine the development of [the EPA guidelines].
“After Labor members voted to acknowledge the climate emergency at their state conference over the weekend, it is disappointing that this sense of urgency has not carried across.”
Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said the key test of the policy would be whether it could prevent further short and medium term pollution increases as emissions growth in WA cancelled out gains made in other states.
He said the suggestion industry could nominate its own short term targets was especially concerning and the policy left the onus with the LNG industry “to show its hand, and come up with real solutions, rather than hiding behind the falsehood that LNG is a climate solution”.
“It is concerning that the government has asked the WA EPA to consult in good faith on its greenhouse gas guidelines, and before that consultation was even completed, the government is now making policy which would appear to pre-empt the independent statutory advice of the authority,” he said.
Think-tank The Australia Institute went further, saying the WA government bowed to big polluters when it “rolled” the EPA earlier this year and was apparently doing it again.
Climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said the announcement seemed timed to undermine the EPA and left the door “wide open for industry to have free rein”.
“The federal government is already under pressure from the Berejiklian New South Wales government to develop a national net-zero target,” he said.
“The next council of Australian governments meeting will find [federal Energy Minister] Angus Taylor on the outer with all states seemingly on a net-zero emissions unity ticket, following WA’s new policy announcement.”
WA has the second highest per capita emissions of all Australian states and territories and was the only state to have had a substantial increase in emissions – 27 per cent – between 2000 and 2016.
On 6PR’s Mornings on Thursday, Gareth Parker pressed WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston to clarify whether WA’s support for the federal target, amounted to a commitment to reduce WA’s emissions by the same amount by the same deadline.
Minister Johnston said it did not.
“We probably will be higher than our 2005 benchmark by 2030,” he said.
“Other states are going down to accommodate the increase in WA, that’s how I understand from the federal Liberal government, is how they will meet the target.”
Asked about the credibility of the federal promises that the target was achievable, he repeated, “the federal government has said they will meet their target”.
He insisted companies would have to play ball on the net zero by 2050 aim.
“Many companies like Shell, BP and even BHP and Rio have got emission targets … as their own corporate objective,” he said.
Curtin University renewable energy expert Peter Newman said the targets were “good and manageable”.
“Industry has the capacity to make the necessary changes by using world best practice,” he said.
He said one way to begin the transition was contributing to land-based carbon storage, especially through trees, which was modelled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
IPCC’s major recommendation in the recent land report showed how even issues as big as the fires burning in the Amazon could be neutralised by this approach.
Innovations such as biochar, hemp, the mallee systems developed in the Wheatbelt or the Gondwana Link planting across the Great Southern could be the basis for new employment in WA and government could assist through creating public-private projects, Professor Newman said.
“These are the new factors that must be part of any assessment process,” he said.
“But most of all they must be the main agenda of industries that want to be part of the new economy in WA.”
Wilderness Society acting state director Kit Sainsbury said the EPA still had a vital role to play in creating the new guidelines.
- The EPA itself has urged the public to have its say before its consultation closes on September 2.
- A background paper to inform submissions is here.
- Make a submission via the EPA Consultation Hub here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to EPA Greenhouse Gas Guidance Consultation, Locked bag 10, Joondalup WA 6919.
Emma Young covers breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice for WAtoday.