“The Labor government’s new Safeguard Mechanism protects the fossil fuel industry. It does literally nothing to save our climate from disaster,” Richard Denniss, director of the Australia Institute, told a forum sponsored by the Sydney Climate Coalition at the University of Sydney on March 15.
Greens leader Adam Bandt and former high school climate strike organiser Natasha Abhayawickrama also addressed the 150-strong forum.
“The Safeguard Mechanism will not protect us from the 117 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline right now,” Denniss said.
The country is not transitioning away from fossil fuels but “toward the carbon industry”. Australia is the third largest fossil fuel exporter in the world, he said, after Saudi Arabia and Russia. "Australia now exports more gas than Qatar,” Denniss said.
“Governments spend more than $11 billion a year subsidising the fossil fuel industry … To tackle climate change we need to stop burning fossil fuels and plant many more trees.”
Denniss explained the Safeguard Mechanism only applies to the 215 largest facilities and “sets a very high carbon baseline for these”. It does not stop new coal and gas projects from opening up.
“Instead of reducing carbon pollution, existing operators can buy ‘offsets’ by supposedly paying for others to plant trees.
“But the reality is that under the current carbon-offset regime, tree clearing in Queensland, for example, has actually increased.”
Bandt said coal and gas carbon pollution is “set to go up” under the Safeguard Mechanism. “Cuts can be on paper only, with no actual reductions in carbon pollution under the scheme.”
Abhayawickrama told the crowd, to loud applause, that the high school-led strikes “led the movement for strong action on climate change and we are beginning to do so again”.
“We need real carbon cuts, not so-called offsets. The fossil fuel industry actually endorses this Safeguard Mechanism policy.”
She said building a massive movement for climate action was key and “we need the Greens to hold the line on climate policy”.
[The next Sydney Climate Coalition forum “Where next for the climate movement?” is on April 5 at 6.30pm at UTS room CB06.03.022.]