Enviro groups put Australia’s big polluters on notice

Offshore oil rig with beautiful orange sunset behind it (mexico woodside)
Image: Shutterstock

Environmental groups are calling for “the free ride” to end for Australia’s biggest polluters, with the Climate Council issuing a direct challenge to the country’s worst offenders to clean up their acts.

As the Labor Government draws up plans for reforming a regulation that’s supposed to be reducing pollution (known as the Safeguard Mechanism) the Climate Council has personally written to the CEOs of Australia’s 10 biggest industrial polluters—including Rio Tinto, Chevron, Woodside and Santos—asking for real cuts to their emissions every single year to 2030. 

In Australia, just 10 companies account for more than half of all the harmful emissions produced under the Safeguard Mechanism, according to new analysis from the Australian Conservation Foundation. Together, these companies have pumped out over 362 million tonnes of harmful pollution since the scheme started in 2016—equivalent to the CO2 produced by more than 16 million Australians in a single year.

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Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie says the Safeguard Mechanism is the most important climate policy you’ve probably never heard of, and it’s time to call it what it really is: a Pollution Speed Limit on Australia’s biggest polluters. 

“The way the laws are currently set-up allows our biggest polluters to keep polluting as much as they like. If they happen to go over the very generous thresholds that are set, then they can buy some cheap offsets and carry on polluting. This has to change,” McKenzie said.

Every one of these major corporate polluters publicly claims to be committed to reaching net zero. Those pledges to their shareholders, the financial markets and the Australian public mean nothing unless they are backed up with real cuts to emissions. 

“We directly challenge the CEOs of these companies to publicly commit their firms to make real cuts to emissions each year to 2030—not greenwashing with cuts only recorded on paper using dodgy offsets. 

“We have a narrow window this decade to avoid the worst climate impacts. The only way to do this is to cut emissions, so the time for pollution-as-usual is over.”

Greenpeace Australia Pacific agreed, saying the government must draw a line in the sand under the “free pass to pollute” that fossil fuel companies currently enjoy.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Glenn Walker said, “While beefing up the Safeguard Mechanism is a starting point in tackling climate pollution from Australia’s coal and gas industry, it ultimately counts for little if Australia keeps approving new coal and gas projects.”

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Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s recommendations:

  1. Set an ambitious emission reduction target to 2030, falling year-on-year. 
  2. Set the overall starting emissions baseline to real emissions today.
  3. Set year-on-year emission reduction targets as uniform for all facilities.
  4. Set facility emission baselines as proven industry best practice.
  5. Disallow offsets for coal, gas and oil companies.
  6. Disallow international offsets.
  7. Put a strong regulator in place.
  8. Embed reforms in legislation.
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