The ACTU and Australian unions have been engaged in Australia’s climate and energy policy development for nearly three decades. Our consistent position has been that Australia needs ambitious and coherent climate and energy policy to limit the impacts of global warming, and that we also need industry planning, support and resources to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as we make the shift to net zero emissions.

In March 2020, the ACTU Executive, meeting in bushfire-affected southern NSW, reiterated:

“The international community, through the Paris Agreement, has committed to limiting the rise in temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees.

The best scientific evidence is that the world needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is and should remain a signatory.

The ACTU supports a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, and shorter term targets consistent with that trajectory, to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Government and corporations must ensure secure jobs and industry policy are placed at the heart of successful planning and implementation. As a nation we must ensure we deliver justice & employment opportunities for impacted workers, their families and the communities in which they live.”

Australia has lacked coherent and over-arching national climate and energy policy since the Clean Energy Act 2011 and its associated programs was repealed by the Coalition government. Since then emissions reductions have flat-lined and it is unclear how Australia will meet even its unambitious Paris Agreement 2030 commitment. Meanwhile fossil fuel power stations have been closing over the past decade with very little notice for workers and communities and no coordinated national transition plan to address the impacts of closures. Workers across the nation are increasingly experiencing climate impacts and extreme weather events in their workplaces with Work Health and Safety legislation and programs failing to catch up.

Given this lack of coherent climate and energy policy, the ACTU welcomes the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020, which shares the union movement’s goal of limiting global warming consistent with the Paris Agreement and achieving net zero emissions across the Australian economy by 2050.

In general, the ACTU supports the objects and architecture of the legislation, which provides a logical framework consistent with climate legislation enacted elsewhere that has been successful in better preparing for, and limiting, the impacts of climate change. We have welcomed the opportunity to provide comments on earlier, draft versions of the legislation. We see this Bill as an important opportunity to break the policy deadlock on climate change in Australia and establish protections for workers and their communities in response to climate change and climate policy responses.

In this brief submission we will concentrate on issues particularly of concern to workers and their unions. In its response to climate change, Australia has largely failed to properly engage workers, unions and their communities. Instead of striving for the Paris Agreement objective of a ‘just transition’ for workers, governments have tended to try and downplay or ignore the impacts of climate change and climate policy responses on workers and their communities. This Bill does attempt to acknowledge and address these impacts, but falls short of global best practice. This ACTU submission will focus on potential tweaks to this Bill that would ensure better protection for Australian workers as we deal with the climate crisis.

We encourage the Committee to hold public hearings into the Climate Change Bill. The ACTU and a number of our affiliates are keen to give evidence should hearings he held on the Bill.