Chris Bowen.

The Albanese government’s mandated climate emissions target of 43 per cent by 2030 will have an immediate and powerful effect across infrastructure and the built environment sector.

It will explicitly target the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Infrastructure Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility – all significant players in the sector.

There’s also a cut in taxes on electric vehicles, which will be welcomed as part of generating cleaner cities.

The climate legislation package will be introduced during the next session of Parliament in late July.

Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen made the announcement at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

The government will task a revitalised Climate Change Authority to advise the government on future targets, including for 2035, and to assess progress against these targets.

Finally, as with the Closing the Gap reports, the federal climate change minister will be need to report on progress each year.

By 2030, Mr Bowen indicated the Albanese government wants all Commonwealth departments and agencies to reach net zero, with 82 per cent of energy to come from renewables.

Promising first step, but more details needed

The most important detail for the infrastructure and the built environment is that the targets will be inserted into “the objectives and functions” of key agencies and departments, particularly Infrastructure Australia.

The news has been welcomed by leading industry groups in the infrastructure sector, who are keen to work with the government on the new laws.

The Planning Institute Australia’s national policy director John Brockhoff cautioned that while we don’t yet know all the details about the legislation at this stage, infrastructure has a vital role to play in reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.

“PIA have advocated in the past for infrastructure to play its role in terms of carbon mitigation, enabling plausible pathways to zero net carbon to be met, and to ensure that infrastructure is resilient in terms of climate adaptation,” Mr Brockhoff told The Fifth Estate.

“While we don’t yet know all the details, IA and its role in prioritising infrastructure for investment should have a climate lens across it. We believe that there is a strong climate lens that should be put to infrastructure planning and in governance around infrastructure delivery.

“We’d also argue that climate lens not be in the abstract, but be related to achieving outcomes for places and regions.”

Infrastructure Sustainability Council chief executive officer Ainsley Simpson told The Fifth Estate that transparent, credible reporting on sustainability progress on infrastructure projects will be essential to reducing emissions.

“This will see the Commonwealth government’s investment and delivery of infrastructure brought in line with the most progressive states and territories, which already leverage the power of government procurement to deliver third party verified sustainability outcomes, including emissions,” Ms Simpson said.

“This approach saw infrastructure projects certified in the last financial year, deliver a 43 per cent reduction in energy emissions, and 56 per cent reduction materials-related emissions from usual practice.”

With infrastructure enabling 70 per cent of Australia’s emissions, Ms Simpson said it’s vital to make every dollar count towards sustainability from the earliest stage, business case and investment.

Meanwhile, Consult Australia’s head of policy and government relations, Kristy Eulenstein, said it is important for the government to support investment in good sustainable design for major projects, taking a “go slow to go fast approach”, in order to reduce emissions from infrastructure.

“We’ve seen the building industry have green buildings for a long time now. It’s almost expected now that you’ve got sustainability ratings on buildings. And I think infrastructure is the beast we haven’t quite tackled yet,” Ms Eulenstein said.

A positive first step

Beyond the infrastructure sector, climate and energy experts generally welcomed the news as a first step, but cautioned that the government would need to do more over the long term.

The Carbon Market Institute’s chief executive, John Connor, said the commitment to emissions cuts is a really important first step in sign-posting a new era for investment in climate action for Australia.

“While we urge governments and industry to invest in ‘meeting and beating’ this 2030 target, this commitment sets a strong foundation as we look to accelerate ambition this decade, and soon turn our attention to setting an even stronger 2035 target by 2025,” Mr Connor said.

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said the national transition plan on the table and a stronger 2030 target is a significant step forward from the previous federal government’s “woeful do-nothing approach”.

But it will need to be strengthened significantly to effectively tackle climate change and protect Australians into the future.

“Families are still without adequate shelter after the worst floods in living memory, we’re grappling with sharply increasing power bills due to our outdated reliance on fossil fuels, and we’re now having to play catch up with our allies after a lost decade on climate action,” Ms McKenzie said.

Federal EV legislation

A separate piece of legislation will promote the uptake of EVs, by abolishing the fringe benefits tax and cutting tariffs on affordable EVs.

Because the next sitting of Parliament isn’t until late July, the tax cut will be introduced retrospectively starting on 1 July.

This is on top of the government’s plans to install an EV fast charger every 150 kilometres along Australian highways and convert 75 per cent of the Commonwealth’s car fleet to zero-emissions vehicles. 

Room for teal and Green amendments

During his speech, Mr Bowen said he was open to considering amendments from teal or Green crossbenchers, so long as they are “complementary to the government’s agenda”.

“If there is a good idea which improves, not undermines the bill, I’m happy to hear it and work with it. But we won’t be entertaining amendments which are not consistent with our agenda or our mandate,” he said.

UPDATED 30 June to add additional comments.

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