Zali Steggall

A bill that would legislate a net zero emissions target for Australia by 2050 was re-introduced to parliament on Monday with the backing of more than 100 organisations,  including Unilever, Atlassian and the Clean Energy Council – and the support of over 92,240 signatures. 

First announced in February, independent MP Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill has been on a COVID-19 induced hiatus, and needs all the support it can get. 

Committing Australia to stronger emissions reduction targets, the bill would require the government to establish an independent climate change commission and incorporate the government’s technology investment roadmap. 

But the Morrison Government – openly unwilling to commit to a 2050 target – is in opposition and in control of which bills are to be debated. 

An open letter to members of parliament, signed over the weekend by prominent leaders in business, technology, finance, environment and health have urged MP’s to support the bill. 

Mike Cannon-Brookes, tech billionaire and Atlassian chief executive officer said the time to act is now, that Australia needs to commit to a zero carbon economy “for the sake of our kids and our planet. 

“We have the opportunity to be a pace setter on the issue and improve our economy and our planet,” he said. 

Throwing their weight behind the cause, Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said doctors are counting on parliamentarians to “prevent further climate impacts that exacerbate poor health outcomes”. 

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia said the time is up on “pandering to the minority of deniers”. 

“If adopted, the bill would set the direction for Australian businesses, give clarity to planning and create the right context for change,” Unilever CEO Nicky Sparshott said. 

“If we don’t take a bipartisan approach to climate action and set targets now, we risk falling behind the rest of the world and compromising the future safety and prosperity of our country.”

The bill is supported by crossbencher Rebekah Sharkie and the Greens and has also been endorsed by prominent leaders including Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief who oversaw the Paris Agreement, economist Professor Ross Garnaut and US Climate Scientist Dr Michael Mann.

In September, at the time of the Climate Change Bill launch, Steggall condemned the Morrison Government’s commitment to climate policy. “It’s time for the Morrison Government to step up,” she said. 

As to the overwhelming support for her climate bill, she said the open letter is a testament that “Australian organisations want policy certainty and stability”. 

Issuing a warning that climate change is the “biggest challenge of our time” she said signals for change are coming from each and every sector. 

“As the rest of the world is charging forward and committing to Net Zero by 2050, Australia risks being left behind,” she said. 

“This includes countries such as UK, Japan, South Korea, Germany and France that have all committed to Net-Zero by 2050. It is time Australia follows suit.”

The bill, if allowed to pass through the house of representatives, could set Australia on a path for growth in jobs, a speedy transition to low emissions technologies and lower electricity prices, investment certainty and trade certainty. 

In contrast, a stark Deloitte Economics report released last week forecasted a dire future for young people in particular if action on the climate crisis is not taken. 

By 2070, the impact of climate change could curtail Australia’s economic growth to the tune of $3.4 trillion and result in 880,000 fewer jobs. 

Geographically hot and heavily reliant on the industries most at risk – mining, tourism, manufacturing and services – people living in regional areas of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, slated to become “uncompetitive”, are projected to take the largest hit.

Report author Pradeep Philip, who was a policy director for former prime minister Kevin Rudd, said unchecked climate change would shrink Australia’s economic growth three per cent every year and cost around 310,000 jobs annually.

“In an economic future where Australia and the rest of the world does not mitigate the worst effects of climate change, the world has an emissions pathway that produces global average warming of above 3°C by 2070,” he said. 

“While this is a global average, the reality is that in parts of Australia it will be much hotter. We will, truly, be the sunburnt country.” 

Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, early this week reinvigorated his support for the bill. 

A prominent signatory on the open letter, he said the bill would provide “much-needed clarity for investors making decisions about long-term infrastructure investments”. 

Investor confidence has been “stymied” he said, by a lack of national policy, government interference in the energy market and a range of out-of-date regulations.

“This letter is yet another example of organisations from right across the spectrum coming together to support an overarching policy that combines action on climate change with a change in the way Australia generates and uses electricity,” he said. 

“Electricity generation is Australia’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and taking action now to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future will lessen the volatility in our climate.

“Taking action to lessen the impacts of global warming should not be dependent on political ideology.”

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