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The Australian Labor government will reform the Safeguard Mechanism. And not a moment too soon. It was badly designed and badly implemented by the previous government, allowing major polluters to continue polluting (and in many cases to increase their annual emissions) with nary a slap on the wrist. As parents, we know a thing or two about bad behaviour; when your child repeatedly defies you, you follow through with a consequence - not sweets. And that's what's been missing from the Safeguard Mechanism.
The Safeguard Mechanism covers the direct greenhouse pollution from about 215 facilities (mines, refineries, industrial facilities and landfills) in Australia that emit over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum each. Electricity generators are excluded from the scheme, but otherwise these facilities represent the largest emitters in the country.
Its primary purpose should be to safeguard our future by reducing emissions from the facilities it regulates and in that, there can be no shortcuts, loopholes or excuses. So let’s put it in simple terms that even unruly children can understand: it’s about threshold, cap and cover:
Ideally we’d like to see the Safeguard Mechanism lower, tighten and reduce threshold and cap, but expand cover, over time until net zero emissions are reached. Crucially, there must be penalties – just like parents must make sure kids that break boundaries follow through with consequences – and then you would have an actual safeguard.
As an opportunity for emissions reduction, it gets better. The 215 facilities are collectively responsible for nearly 30% of Australia’s total emissions, of which the gas and coal mining facilities account for over half as shown in Figure 1 (bear in mind that’s just the emissions associated with getting gas and coal out of the ground: it doesn’t include emissions when they are burnt).
Figure 1 - Fossil fuel facilities represent 56% of SGM emissions.
Source: 2020-21 Safeguard Facility Data spreadsheet
Just 10 companies control facilities (of all types including aluminium smelters and steel mills) responsible for over half the emissions covered by the Safeguard Mechanism. It’s a really concentrated opportunity for the government to work with a small number of firms to make a big impact.
The trouble is, those 10, including Rio Tinto, Chevron, Woodside and Santos, continue to receive the lion’s share of $11.6 billion in fossil fuel sector subsidies per year, avoid tax, pay low royalties, and are currently enjoying huge windfall profits resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All whilst forking out large sums to lobby, donate to and gladhandle our politicians and fund disinformation campaigns.
And if that’s not enough, Woodside, in its submission to the SGM consultation said they expect more of our money to reduce their emissions. Spoiled, much?
Children might love sweets but they rot their teeth. Coal and gas might be supporting our lifestyles now – and making a few of us rich – but they are quickly eroding any hopes of a safe future. Time is of the essence here.
The Australian Labor Party’s plan is to decrease the Safeguard Mechanism cap by 5MT per annum to 2030. This amounts to 3.6% of current emissions from facilities covered by the Safeguard Mechanism (137 MT), and about 1% of total Australian emissions (about 500 MT). Labor claims this is in line with its inadequate 43% target. A 75% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2035, as per the science and the Paris Agreement’s equity principles, is what would be necessary for Australia to be doing its bit to give our children a fighting chance.
In Australian Parents for Climate Action’s submission, we argued that given that it’s such a concentrated market, heavily favouring the incumbents who have the highest historical share of emissions and the deepest pockets to make reductions, Safeguard Mechanism facilities should do more of the heavy lifting – and right now is the time for it.
Will it destroy our economy? It won’t be easy and we want a just and orderly transition, but with livelihoods and lives lost in floods, droughts and storms, with billions of dollars of damage to property, with severe loss of biodiversity, will there be a functioning economy to speak of, if we don’t act now?
Through the sleepless nights, the mess, the noise, the cost, the worry and the sacrifice, parents keep thinking of their children’s future. And we expect the same of our governments - especially in regulating pollution. Anything less puts our children's safety at risk from climate harm.Share Tweet
Australian Parents for Climate Action meet and work on the lands of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people and respect that sovereignty of those lands was never ceded. We pay respect to Elders, past and present and emerging, and acknowledge the pivotal role that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within the Australian community.