Environment and Sustainable Development 5 Minute Fix 44: national sustainable finance strategy, petroleum and geothermal decommissioning – Knowledge

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Climate change

Commonwealth: Sustainable Finance Strategy consultation paper released

Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the release of a consultation paper on the Government’s Sustainable Finance Strategy. The Government’s Strategy is geared towards enabling Australian companies, investors, and the broader community to fully harness the potential of the energy transition and achieve net-zero goals.

The Strategy is to align with Australia’s ambition to become a leading force in renewable energy through delivery of the following proposed priorities:

Pillar 1: Improve transparency on climate and sustainability

  • Priority 1: Establish a framework for sustainability-related financial disclosures
  • Priority 2: Develop a Sustainable Finance Taxonomy
  • Priority 3: Support credible net zero transition planning
  • Priority 4: Develop a labelling system for investment products marketed as sustainable

Pillar 2: Financial system capabilities

  • Priority 5: Enhancing market supervision and enforcement
  • Priority 6: Identifying and responding to potential systemic financial risks
  • Priority 7: Addressing data and analytical challenges
  • Priority 8: Ensuring fit for purpose regulatory frameworks

Pillar 3: Australian Government leadership and engagement

  • Priority 9: Issuing Australian sovereign green bonds
  • Priority 10: Catalysing sustainable finance flows and markets
  • Priority 11: Promoting international alignment
  • Priority 12: Position Australia as a global sustainability leader

Submissions can be made until 1 December 2023.

We explore the Government’s Sustainable Finance Strategy Consultation Paper here.

Commonwealth: Tackling climate change – plan for our agriculture and land sectors

As part of its development of a net zero plan, the Commonwealth Government has committed to developing 6 sectoral decarbonisation plans for electricity and energy, industry, resources, the built environment, agriculture and land, and transport.

The Government has now released the Agriculture, land and emissions Discussion paper which set out the role the agriculture and land sector can play in reducing emissions and implementing technologies and practices to help Australia with its transition to a net zero economy.

The Discussion Paper discusses:

  1. the need for higher levels of ambition;
  2. the existing effort and initiatives underway to reduce emissions from agriculture and land;
  3. the technical potential to reduce emissions and increase carbon storage;
  4. what the emission reduction pathways might look like for the sector to 2035, and longer-term; and
  5. areas where action could be taken to help lower emissions.

Feedback can be provided until 5pm (AEDT), Wednesday 13 December 2023.

NSW: Government set to legislate net zero target for 2050

On 12 October 2023, the NSW Government tabled the Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023 which proposes to legislate NSW’s net zero by 2050 target, as well as establishing an independent Net Zero Commission to monitor the State’s progress.

Key aspects of the Bill include:

  • legislating NSW’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and net zero by 2050;
  • the Net Zero Commission will be an independent body, consisting of commissioners and NSW’s Chief Scientist. Their role will be to monitor, review, and report on NSW’s progress towards the targets; and
  • the establishment of guiding principles for action to address climate change.

The Bill has been referred to Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment for inquiry and report.

Energy

WA: Shaping WA’s Battery and Critical Minerals Strategy – have your say

The Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation is seeking to update its Battery and Critical Minerals Strategy and is now requesting feedback from stakeholders on how Western Australia can position itself to attract investment and maximise value from the sector. As part of this, the Department has released a stakeholder consultation paper, which outlines some key considerations for the updated Strategy, including:

  • Industrial land and service infrastructure.
  • Research and development.
  • Access to capital funds and financial incentives.
  • Investment attraction and partnerships.
  • Mining and exploration.
  • Skilled workforce.
  • Social licence to operate, approvals and First Nations.

Submissions can be made until 5.00pm Monday, 4 December 2023.

Resources

QLD: Consultation on proposed reforms to regional planning interests legislation: have your say

The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning has released a discussion paper which outlines proposed amendments to the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (RPI Act) and Regional Planning Interests Regulation 2014 aimed at implementing recommendations from the GasFields Commission Queensland Review of Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 Assessment Process Report and improving the overall transparency, clarity and usability of the RPI Act. Submissions on the discussion paper can be made until Friday, 8 December 2023.

The proposed reforms can be summarised as:

Amendments to address the Committee’s concerns

Eligibility criteria for the land owner agreement exemption

Replace the “current exemption” in section 22 of the RPI Act with new eligibility criteria. An authority holder will undertake self-assessment against these criteria.

Register of exemption

Introduce a new requirement for authority holders to provide information to the assessing authority about activities being carried out under an exemption (including the new eligibility criteria). This information will be available on a publicly accessible register.

Land owner consultation for activities carried out under exemptions

Introduce new requirements for the authority holder acting under an exemption to:

  • consult with land owners regarding the new eligibility criteria
  • notify land owners and adjoining land owners for activities using section 22, section 23 and section 24 exemptions.

Introduce a new requirement for authority holders carrying out activities under an exemption to make a declaration to the administering authority that the relevant consultation or notification with land owners has been carried out.

Amendments to improve the overall transparency, clarify and usability of the RPI Act

Compliance and enforcement provisions

Possible amendments (subject to consultation) may include:

  • introducing additional compliance measures such as show cause notices and enforcement notices
  • introducing offences for noncompliance with the new requirements proposed in the discussion paper (eg. failure to provide details on a register of exemption).

Land owner notification of regional interests development approval (RIDA) assessment applications

Provide a consistent point in the application process (the time of lodgement) at which the land owner is notified of the application. This is in place of the existing process which varies depending on whether the application is required to undergo public notification.

Expand notification of RIDA assessment applications

Introduce notification requirements to alert affected adjoining land owners about RIDA applications (including the provision of a copy of the RIDA assessment application).

Public notification of RIDA applications and decisions in a newspaper

Remove requirements for newspaper publication of a RIDA decision, as per the requirements under the Financial Accountability Act 2009. Allow chief executive discretion on newspaper publication for notification of RIDA applications.

RIDA applications to address all applicable areas of regional interest

Amendment to clarify that a RIDA assessment application for a resource activity to be undertaken on land in overlapping areas of regional interest is required to address all applicable areas of regional interest and their respective criteria for that activity.

Clarification of the exemption for pre-existing activities (section 24)

Redraft the provision to reflect the intent that any activity that was able to lawfully occur prior to the commencement of the RPI Act can operate under the section 24 exemption.

QLD: CSG subsidence management reforms: have your say

Building upon the Queensland Government’s response to the GasFields Commission Queensland’s (GFCQ) review into coal seam gas-induced subsidence, the Department of Resources has released the Coexistence institutions and CSG-induced subsidence management framework consultation paper which proposes reforms for the sustainable coexistence of landholders, rural and regional communities, and the resources and energy sectors. Submissions on the consultation paper can be made until Friday, 8 December 2023.

There are two parts to the proposed reforms:

Implementation of a risk-based management framework for CSG induced subsidence and a land access risk assessment framework in relation to preliminary and advanced activities

Proposed amendments to the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014 and Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Regulation 2016 to:

  • expand the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment’s (OGIA) role and functions to provide for cumulative assessments and management to be undertaken in relation to CSG-induced subsidence to support the proposed subsidence management framework;
  • introduce a subsidence management framework to assess and manage CSG-induced subsidence impacts from existing and future extraction of CSG resources, particularly farm scale impacts; and
  • introduce a new requirement to the land access framework for a land access risk assessment for preliminary and advanced activities.

Reforms to Queensland’s coexistence institutions.

The proposed reforms relate to the scope and functions of the coexistence institutions, including:

  • refreshing GFCQ’s role to focus its functions on providing education and information to stakeholders on matters related to coexistence and land access across a broadened remit, being the resources and renewable energy sectors;
  • expansion of Land Access Ombudsman’s functions to increase the dispute resolution assistance and support available to stakeholders negotiating land access agreements through an alternative dispute resolution process; and
  • expansion of OGIA’s functions to provide broader advice on matters relating to subsurface impacts from petroleum and gas activities across the State, and support management of CSG-induced subsidence.

NT: Significant reforms for mining activities introduced

Following consultation between August and September this year, on 25 October 2023 the Territory Government introduced the following bills into the Northern Territory Parliament:

  • Environment Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (previously referred to as the Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Mining) Bill 2023) – to introduce a new legislative framework for managing the environmental impacts associated with mining activities and to make other improvements Environment Protection Act 2019 (EP Act), Environment Protection Regulations 2020 (EP Regulations), and Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Chain of Responsibility) Act 2022 (Chain of Responsibility Act); and
  • Legacy Mines Remediation Bill 2023 – to improve the framework for managing legacy mines and repeal the Mining Management Act 2001.

We provided a brief snapshot of the consultation draft bills in our ESD 5 Minute Fix 42.

The significant aspects of the Environment Protection Legislation Amendment Bill is to:

  • amend the Environment Protection Act 2019 (EP Act) and the Environment Protection Regulations 2020 along with the Minerals Title Act 2010 to introduce substantial reforms to how the Territory manages the environmental impacts of mining activities, including a new environmental mining framework to establish a new, three tier, licensing system to manage mining activities, underpinned by general environmental duties. Under this new framework, there is a requirement for any mining activity that causes a substantial disturbance to hold an environmental mining licence for the purpose of preventing, minimising and monitoring the environmental impacts of a mining activity. The environmental mining licence will replace the need for authorisation under the Minerals Title Act 2010; and
  • amend the Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Chain of Responsibility) Act 2022 and regulations to implement recommendations of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory so that the Petroleum Act 1984 is prescribed for the purposes of the Chain of Responsibility Scheme and the Northern Territory Environmental Offsets Framework.

In conjunction with this, the Legacy Mines Remediation Bill 2023 will provide for the continuation of the Mining Remediation Fund, continue the requirement for a mining remediation levy to be paid by mining operators, and to provide the regulatory environment for the remediation and administration of legacy mines and legacy mine features.

Given the significant nature of these reforms, this is definitely something the mining industry should be across. Commencement of the substantive reforms will be on a date fixed by the Administrator by Gazette notice, but no later than 16 October 2025.

WA: Draft policy and guidance on best-practice petroleum and geothermal decommissioning released for consultation

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is seeking feedback from stakeholders on a Draft Policy and Draft Guidelines for the decommissioning of petroleum and geothermal energy property, equipment and infrastructure in Western Australia onshore areas and State coastal areas.

The Draft Policy and Draft Guidelines were prepared following industry feedback received from the Draft Decommissioning Discussion Paper released for consultation in September 2022 and once finalised will have the following purpose:

Draft Policy – outlines the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s position (and articulates its expectations) for the decommissioning of onshore petroleum and geothermal energy property, equipment and infrastructure pursuant to the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 and Petroleum Pipelines Act 1969 and decommissioning in State coastal waters pursuant to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1982.

Draft Guideline – to provide guidance to operators and registered holders in Western Australia in how to address the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s expectations for the decommissioning and rehabilitation obligations with respect to their operations, and any equipment, infrastructure, facilities, wells and pipelines.

Submissions can be made until 5pm Monday, 4 December 2023.

Planning

WA: Government set to reform planning and development legislation

On 18 October 2023, the WA Government introduced the Planning and Development Amendment Bill 2023 into the Legislative Assembly. The key reforms proposed by the Bill include:

  • The creation of a new permanent significant development pathway and supporting amendments to support its implementation including changes to ensure strategic planning and State policy framework stays contemporary and is achieving intended outcomes.
  • Changes to local government decision making on single house developments.
  • Reform of the Western Australian Planning Commission.
  • Various reforms to streamline and simplify existing planning processes.

The proposed changes are aimed at improving efficiencies in planning processes and decision making to assist with the delivery of housing and other critical infrastructure, reduce unnecessary red tape and further streamline and coordinate planning processes.

The Bill will be supported by a suite of subordinate legislation and guidance material.

Environmental protection

ACT: Government’s major move to legislate the right to a healthy environment

The ACT Government is taking a significant step towards upholding human rights with the introduction of the Human Rights (Healthy Environment) Amendment Bill 2023. The Bill seeks to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in the ACT’s Human Rights Act, making it the first of its kind in Australia to provide explicit legal recognition for a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This development is especially crucial given the intertwined threats of climate change, environmental pollution, and biodiversity loss. It mirrors the global consensus on the critical need for environmental safeguards for both present and future generations.

The right to a healthy environment encompasses various essential elements, including access to clean air, a stable climate, safe water, sustainably sourced food, non-toxic living and working spaces, and recreational environments. It also entails the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.

In the ACT, enshrining this right will ensure that environmental and climate considerations are integrated into the operations and decision-making of public authorities. As explained in the Government media release announcing the introduction of the Bill, although Court remedies for breaches of public authority obligations will not initially apply to allow for a comprehensive understanding and implementation of the right by public authorities, complaints about violations can be filed with the ACT Human Rights Commission through the new human rights complaints process established by the Government.

After undergoing debate and receiving approval from the Legislative Assembly, the Bill is slated to become effective within six months of notification (if not earlier).

SA: New noise policy hits SA

On 31 October 2023, the Environment Protection (Commercial and Industrial Noise) Policy 2023 took effect and will operate under the Environment Protection Act 1993. The Policy has been developed after extensive review by the Environment Protection Authority and will replace the Environment Protection (Noise) Policy 2007.

The new Policy serves two major functions when assessing noise impacts from commercial and industrial noise sources:

  1. set compliance standards; and
  2. implement a planning assessment tool.

For more detailed guidance on the Policy, please refer to the guidelines here.

WA: Bill to repeal recent reforms to Aboriginal heritage legislation passed in WA Parliament

On 17 October 2023, the Aboriginal Heritage Legislation Amendment and Repeal Bill 2023 was passed in the Legislative Council and received assent on 24 October 2023. This means that WA will return to the old system of managing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage under the reinstated Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 with the a number of new amendments, most importantly concerning the section 18 approvals process including:

  • giving native title parties the right to apply to the State Administrative Tribunal for review of section 18 decision where the party is aggrieved;
  • giving no effect to provisions in a contract or agreement that prohibit a native title party from seeking to be heard in relation an application for a section 18 consent; and
  • imposing obligations on landowners, if new information comes to light about an Aboriginal site on their land after a section 18 consent is granted, to notify the Minister of this new information.

For more discussion on these reforms, see our Alert.

NSW: Environmental law reform aimed at regulation of industrial chemicals

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has released the Draft Environmental Legislation Amendment (Hazardous Chemicals) Bill 2023 (Hazardous Chemicals Bill) for consultation to align NSW with new national standards for industrial chemical risk management.

The draft Bill proposes to amend the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) to strengthen the regulation of industrial chemicals and to allow for the repeal of the Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985. Relevantly, the Bill proposes to:

  • implement the national reforms to the management of industrial chemicals by adopting the Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management Standard (IChEMS);
  • impose notification requirements to ensure the EPA becomes aware of the use of emerging problem chemicals, that may present a risk of harm to people or the environment; and
  • streamlining requirements for managing the environmental risks of industrial chemicals by moving them into one piece of legislation.

Special thanks to Nicole Besgrove (Brisbane) for co-ordinating the ESD 5 Minute Fix and to Maisie McFadyen and Vincent Collins (Sydney), Zac Bosnakis (Perth), and Johnson Choi (Brisbane) for their contribution to this edition.

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