There’s no sign yet that Australia’s new environment laws will account for the threat climate change poses to nature, a conservation group says.
The federal government has started consulting stakeholders on its once-in-a-generation rewrite of laws to protect the environment.
The work is supposed to fix fatal flaws in the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act after a scathing review found it was incapable of producing good outcomes.
The first round of consultations – limited to about 30 stakeholder groups – began in Canberra on Monday.
The Australian Conservation Foundation was among those presented with an outline of the assessment and approval system for new projects.
The group has offered a mixed view of what’s on the table so far, particularly in relation to climate change.
National biodiversity policy adviser Brendan Sydes says the government has accepted the Samuel review’s recommendations that project applicants disclose their scope one and two emissions.
But so far there’s nothing to suggest anything will be done with that information.
“The assumption is … fairly safely, that there’s no intention to take that information into account … That is a serious shortcoming,” Mr Sydes said.
“We need to be thinking about how the current silence of the EPBC Act, when it comes to climate impacts, is actually addressed.”
He said the new laws would for the first time define unacceptable impacts for the environment.
The new, independent environment protection authority won’t be able to approve those projects, but the minister still can.
“Unhelpfully … though, we’ve got a phenomenon where the minister will still have this call-in power and potentially quite broad discretion available to her in terms of what she approves, including being able to permit what would otherwise be unacceptable impacts.”
AAP contacted other stakeholder groups for comment. The Business Council of Australia and Minerals Council of Australia declined to share any early views.
The government is planning a staged approach to consultation on the new laws.
Stakeholder groups will get a series of opportunities to comment on the reforms, which will be released in tranches. But they are not being given copies.
The government says the material is not ready for broad release, and the groups invited to view material in person are providing “early soundings”.
The general public won’t get to see the proposed laws until they are tabled in parliament early next year.
(Australian Associated Press)