Safeguard Mechanism must end “free pass to pollute”: Greenpeace


SYDNEY, 19 September 2022: The Federal Government’s review of the Safeguard Mechanism, which regulates climate pollution from Australian corporations, must draw a line in the sand under the free pass to pollute that fossil fuel companies currently enjoy, urges Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s submission to the Federal Safeguard Mechanism review calls for a climate-science aligned emissions reduction target by 2030 to ensure companies are doing their fair share of emissions reduction, and to rule out offsets that allow fossil fuel companies to greenwash their emissions. 

Glenn Walker, senior campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said that a strengthened Safeguard Mechanism would be a first step in holding Australia’s biggest polluters to account.

“Australia is home to some of the world’s most climate-polluting fossil fuel companies, and under the current weak Safeguard Mechanism these mega-polluters effectively enjoy a free pass to destroy our climate. The Federal review of the Safeguard Mechanism must draw a line in the sand under the damage these companies are wreaking, and ensure that, as a start, corporate domestic emissions are strongly regulated in line with what climate science demands.”

“The Federal Government’s policy reform suggests just a 13% reduction of climate pollution by the industrial sector to 2030 on 2005 levels – nowhere near the economy-wide 43% target. This means Australia’s biggest climate polluters are being asked to do very little and that the burden of emission reduction will be shifted much more heavily to other sectors like agriculture and energy.”

“The vast climate pollution from fossil fuel companies undermines Australia’s efforts to ensure a safer climate, and it’s time that these companies started doing their fair share of emissions reduction. A strengthened Safeguard Mechanism must also utterly rule out fossil fuel companies greenwashing their emissions through carbon offsets.”

“While beefing up the Safeguard Mechanism is a starting point in tackling climate pollution from Australia’s coal and gas industry, it ultimately counts for little if Australia keeps approving new coal and gas projects.”

“Gas company Woodside is currently attempting to push through the Browse basin, which through its planned gas exports would spew out 1.6 billion tonnes of climate pollution over its lifetime, while even a strengthened Safeguard Mechanism would only regulate its much smaller domestic emissions. If the Federal Government is serious about reducing Australia’s emissions, it must also rule out new coal and gas projects and regulate the outsized climate pollution from Australia’s fossil fuel exports.”

Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Recommendations:

  1. Set an ambitious emission reduction target to 2030, falling year-on-year: In order to meet the 1.5 degree target the Safeguard Mechanism emission reduction target must be set to a baseline of 57Mt in 2029-2030 (assuming a 50% reduction by that time on 2005 levels) falling 8.3% each year. In order to meet the Federal Government’s less ambitious target as expressed in Reputex’s modelling, the baseline would need to be set at 89Mt in 2029-2030, with a 5% fall each year. This latter target should be regarded as an absolute floor. 
  2. Set the overall starting emissions baseline to real emissions today: To ensure an equitable and effective policy, the starting emissions baseline under the reformed scheme must be set at the current actual combined emissions of all facilities covered of 137Mt. This should replace the current baseline of 157Mt, which includes a buffer, or “headroom” of 20Mt that would render the policy ineffective.
  3. Set year-on-year emission reduction targets as uniform for all facilities: There should be no favourable treatment or complex special emissions calculations for specific companies like Woodside Energy. Instead the reduction target should simply be set equal across all facilities for all companies on an annual, linear basis towards the initial 2030 target. Multi-year monitoring period baselines should be removed completely as a form of special treatment.
  4. Set facility emission baselines as proven industry best practice: Instead of setting facility emission baselines on an industry average or site-specific variables, baselines should instead be set as global industry best practice to ensure rapid adoption of low emissions technology.
  5. Disallow offsets for coal, gas and oil companies: Fossil carbon kept underground is far more stable than carbon actively cycling between the land, ocean and atmosphere. The priority should therefore be to keep the fossil carbon in the ground and not equate this with land-based carbon offsets. For this reason coal, gas and oil companies – the primary global drivers of climate change – should not be permitted to use Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) as part of the scheme.
  6. Disallow international offsets: Australia already has serious issues with the integrity of ACCUs – this is just as pronounced with international offsets where the Federal Government has no real control over integrity. International offsets should not be permitted at all as part of the scheme.
  7. Put a strong regulator in place: The Safeguard Mechanism requires a strong, independent regulator to oversee the scheme and to crack down forcefully on any attempts to game the system. The Clean Energy Regulator has been shown to be an ineffective regulator. A new and independent regulatory body should be established to oversee this policy.
  8. Embed reforms in legislation: As much as possible, reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism should be embedded into the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 and other relevant legislation rather than just made via regulatory changes. This will help reduce the risk of ongoing political interference and give greater certainty to industry.

Read the full Greenpeace Australia Pacific submission here.

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Head of Communications Nelli Stevenson on 0481 303 815 or email [email protected]