Expert legal review finds Australia’s environment law fails to protect safe and liveable climate

31.10.23 By

BIG POLLUTING FOSSIL fuel projects are escaping scrutiny because Australia’s national environment law has a massive gap when it comes to climate change harms, according to a legal review released Tuesday.

Distinguished environmental and climate law professor Jacqueline Peel prepared the review.

More than 35 of Australia’s leading environmental law experts have today backed Professor Peel’s findings in an open letter to the Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, which calls on the Federal Government to fix our national environment law by putting climate at its heart. 

“Our national environmental law does not currently require the Federal Environment Minister to protect a safe and liveable climate, or even to consider the impact of more greenhouse gas pollution on the threatened species, habitats and wildlife this law was set up to protect,” Professor Peel said.

“There is no other federal law which assesses and approves new coal, oil and onshore gas projects to proceed. This means the damage they could do to the climate and environment isn’t being properly looked at anywhere, showing a major gap in our legal framework for tackling climate change.” 

Key issues called out by Professor Peel’s review include:

Climate Council Head of Advocacy Dr Jennifer Rayner said: “We need a national environment law which helps Australia deal with the climate crisis that is already battering our environment, and communities, right around the country. 

“This means setting the law up so that it can say a quick yes to responsible renewable energy and clean industry projects, which will help us drive down emissions while delivering good new jobs. And so it can provide a decisive no to big polluting projects that are going to pile on more climate harm.

“The first consultation drafts of the government’s reforms, released to stakeholders this week, are a huge missed opportunity. There is simply nothing there for climate, despite the loud and growing calls from communities and experts around the country to deal with this major environmental threat.  

“The Albanese Government should put climate at the heart of this law so that it properly protects our environment, and the precious natural places we all rely on for healthy, safe and prosperous lives.”   

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The Climate Council is Australia’s leading community-funded climate change communications organisation. We provide authoritative, expert and evidence-based advice on climate change to journalists, policymakers, and the wider Australian community.

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