In what could be one of the most radical coalitions in Western Australia, disparate groups from farmers to unionists have banded together to pressure contestants at WA’s 11 March state election into supporting climate action and opposing fracking.
Right now WA residents have the highest carbon footprints in the world thanks to liquefied natural gas plants and the huge amount of energy consumed and emissions produced in its manufacture.
Yet the state’s Environmental Protection Authority no longer lists climate change or carbon pollution as a significant factor for assessment of proposals and there are no controls on emissions from gas production.
According to Piers Verstegen, director of the Conservation Council of WA, the state’s peak environment group, the danger of fracking, particularly to WA’s fragile water supply, is uniting the most unlikely of allies to support a common cause.
The Climate Consensus Statement is supported by farmers, churches, unions and doctors.
“We are proud to be part of the broadest and most diverse alliance on climate change in Western Australia’s history,” Verstegen said on Tuesday.
“It shows that climate change is an issue that affects everyone, and all communities and organisations have a role to play in the transition to a low pollution economy powered by affordable renewable energy.
“WA has the highest carbon pollution per person of anywhere in the world, but there’s a lot that can be done to address that, while making our economy more competitive and reducing energy bills for homes and businesses.
Verstegen says a survey soon to be released by the CCWA will show opposition to fracking runs across the political divide and comprises about three quarters of voters. Even One Nation and Liberal voters oppose fracking.
But the state government isn’t listening. Verstegen blames dependency on the huge economic power of the gas industry and a “revolving” door of gas industry executives moving in and out of government positions that have stymied the Barnett government’s hand.
He says the state must embrace renewable energy and improve its environmental performance if it wants its economy to be competitive in the future.
“With the money saved from subsidies currently paid to polluting coal and gas, as well as to native forest logging, the state government should support the agricultural sector to adapt to a changing climate and to reduce emissions from farming,” he says.
“Maintaining the carbon stored in our forests and other natural vegetation is also one of the most important and cost-effective ways to tackle climate change. This means preventing further land clearing and forest logging, which would also save taxpayers millions of dollars in subsidies each year.”
The consensus statement also calls for support to employees and other stakeholders in the coal industry in a transition to clean energy.
Unregulated emissions okay in WA
Verstegen says action is urgent because LNG no longer has regulatory constraints on emissions.
“They were taken away when the federal government implemented a carbon price and not reinstated when the carbon price was removed. So we have unregulated emissions.”
He says the next push by the gas industry into fracking on sensitive farmland over aquifers was alarming farmers, urban dwellers and original inhabitants.
In the works is a new LNG processing facility at James Price Point approved by the government but at this stage without a proponent. The result if it were to go ahead would be an extra 49 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year – 50 per cent up on existing levels.
In regional communities and regional seats, especially in places such as Canning Basin, there are vast deposits of gas but communities are “very concerned” about the impact on groundwater, Verstegen says.
Traditional owners the Yawuru people also voted to oppose fracking in the area.
The public wants renewables
According to Verstegen the public wants renewables, overwhelmingly so, and across the political divides.
“The general consensus in our survey [not released to media yet] is that there is overwhelming support for renewable energy to power WA’s economy in the future, across marginal seats and all voting groups.”
The gas industry has a powerful narrative that gas is clean but Verstegen says the public is not convinced, despite generous sponsorship and advertising.
“They spend a lot of money on direct advertising and sponsorship for just about everything going – they’re very invested in the culture and the arts, which gives them a social profile. But even so we’ve seen social support and public support for gas collapse.”
He says polling for the upcoming election suggests there is a mood for change in WA. A similar concern surrounds fracking in Perth.
“The whole fracking issue has woken people up. It’s definitely turning out to be an issue in marginal seats in the metro area,” Verstegen says.
“It’s one of the driest cities in the world,” which means the city becomes “very vulnerable”.
“The next WA government will have a choice to make for our future – will it focus on developing clean, affordable, renewable energy or will it allow thousands of polluting gas fracking wells to be drilled through our farmland and groundwater aquifers?”