A strong climate bill is our best chance to get it right on global warming

Protesters at the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The Victorian Climate Bill came to be seen as a document that would pla

In 2006, the Victorian government committed to introducing a “landmark” Climate Change Bill. At this time, there was growing momentum around the world for legislation that would cut greenhouse gas emissions. This momentum was largely in response to the glacial pace of the international climate change negotiations.

Back in 2005, Friends of the Earth in Britain drafted a Climate Change Bill to commit the government to cutting the amounts of carbon dioxide being released by 3% each year, leading to a 60% reduction by 2050. After a long campaign, the bill was tabled in Parliament by a cross party group of MPs.

As a result of developments in climate science, the emissions reduction target was increased in 2008, from 60% to 80%. The bill became law in late 2008.

In 2007, the South Australian government introduced legislation that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within that state by at least 60% by mid century.

The election of Kevin Rudd in 2007 and the subsequent proposal to establish a national emissions trading scheme (ETS) meant the Victorian government stepped back for some time to see how it would develop.

The Victorian Climate Bill came to be seen as a document that would plan our adaptation to climate change rather than how we would actually reduce our emissions.

The collapse of Rudd's proposed ETS puts pressure back on Victoria to cut emissions with its bill.

The government is expected to release its draft legislation soon. A lot of legislative water and climate science has passed under the bridge since 2006 and it is imperative that Victoria adopts the best aspects of legislation enacted elsewhere.

Such a bill, based on deep emissions reductions targets, would — even without a “price signal” of a financial cost on carbon — provide clarity for future energy investment, while driving down greenhouse emissions and creating thousands of new jobs.

Green or “climate” jobs are popular with the community, and break through the divisive — and incorrect — assumption that we must choose either environmental protection or a robust economy.

The Victorian government says it accepts the need for a transformation in our economy. On June 18, Premier John Brumby noted that we need “to move Victoria away from its historic reliance on coal, oil and gas to generate energy”. To achieve this, the government must include a strong, comprehensive Climate Bill as part of its 2010 election platform.

There are a number of precedents for Victoria to examine in framing the bill. In the US, an Energy Bill was passed in 2009 by the House of Representatives to set a price on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and other large polluters as a means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020 and by more than 80% by 2050. The Senate version of the bill is not as strong and provides increased incentives for nuclear power and “clean coal” technologies. Despite these problems, there are a range of clear examples of good policy elsewhere.

The Ontario Green Energy Act will boost investment in renewable energy projects and increase energy conservation. It is expected to create 50,000 jobs in three years.

The most comprehensive legislation so far is Scotland’s 2009 Climate Change Act. This includes:
● a 42% reduction in greenhouse emissions against 1990 levels by 2020;
● a target of 80% reductions by 2050;
● annual emissions reduction targets;
● regular reporting to parliament on actions taken and whether targets have been met;
● coverage of the six key greenhouse gases;
● independent scientific advice on targets;
● powers to impose actions to meet targets;
● a significant focus on public engagement and behaviour change;
● a global perspective committing Scotland to commit to a “fair share” of global emissions;
● strategies for adaptation and building resilience;
● coverage of all emissions produced in Scotland (significantly including aviation);
● a strong focus on energy efficiency, which will drive growth in new green jobs;
● land use strategies to be developed for agriculture, forestry and other land uses.

Further information, and an action alert, can be found at www.melbourne.foe.org.au.

[Cam Walker is campaigns co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth in Melbourne. He will speak at the Climate Change Social Change conference in Melbourne, November 5-7. www.ccsc2010.com.]