ACT bucks trend, to include emissions in new planning decisions

(Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy)

The ACT government will force major projects to account for their prospective greenhouse gas emissions during the planning process, bucking a trend that has seen governments seek to protect developers from responsibility.

The amendments were proposed by ACT Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur, who is set to retire from ACT politics following the forthcoming territory election, and will require ACT planning authorities to consider the compatibility of new developments with the ACT’s emissions reduction targets, which includes a goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2045.

“The first time in ACT history, high greenhouse gas-emitting development proposals will be required to account for their planet-warming emissions in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This will give Canberrans an unprecedented opportunity to fight for them to be cleaner and greener, and better for our community,” Le Couteur said.

“As a bonus, climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions will also need to be disclosed as part of the Development Application (DA) process on larger scale developments from July 2021.  That will allow better targeted action to reduce emissions in future.”

“For too long, climate emissions have been in the too-hard basket for development application processes. As a direct result of my legislation, people who are concerned about the future of our planet will be thrilled to hear that we will be able to actually start counting emissions of building use here in the ACT. This is new ground, and in some ways baby steps, but vital in planning a climate-safe future,” Le Couteur added.

The legislation will provide planning authorities with the grounds to reject development proposals which will cause unacceptable increases in the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions footprint.

The ACT Greens hold the balance of power in the ACT legislative assembly, holding two seats, and formed a parliamentary alliance with the ACT Labor party to form government. With Le Couteur’s ACT Greens colleague Shane Rattenbury appointed to ministerial portfolios, Le Couteur effectively serves as the sole crossbencher in the ACT parliament.

The NSW government recently abandoned an attempt to prevent the state’s planning authorities from considering the impacts of climate change and the contribution that developments like new coal mines would make to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The move followed a decision of the NSW Land and Environment Court to reject the approval of the Rocky Hill coal mine, with the court’s judgement including a statement that there were grounds to refuse the project due to the mine’s projected contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The court’s decision in the Rocky Hill coal mine case was used as the basis for the refusal of the Bylong coal mine by the NSW Independent Planning Commission, which said the precedent meant the new coal project should be rejected.

NSW planning minister Rob Stokes promptly proposed legislative amendments that would prevent planning authorities from taking scope-3 emissions into account, including emissions from coal produced in New South Wales but that is ultimately burnt overseas, but the amendments have effectively stalled and were opposed by a parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the amendments.

While the NSW planning amendments were shelved in December after the Berejeklian government sought to avoid the problematic perception of it working to protect the fossil fuel industry while the state was in the midst of climate change fuelled bush fire crisis.

The ACT government is never likely to consider plans to develop a coal mine within the nation’s capital. However, the legislative amendments provide a model for how future developments may be required to account for their greenhouse gas emissions in the planning phase.

 

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