Environment groups in Victoria are calling for the introduction of a ‘climate charter’ in the state which would set CO2 emission reduction targets and enable citizens to take legal action against the government if the targets aren’t met.
The proposed charter, an overarching legal framework modelled on Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, would require public authorities to submit all significant policies and decisions to a ‘climate test’ and would make the government legally accountable for developments which reduced Victoria’s ability to achieve its targets.
The charter framework was developed by lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia (formerly the Environment Defenders Office Victoria) and was unveiled in a submission to the review of the Victorian Climate Change Act currently being undertaken by an independent committee.
Environmental Justice Australia Director of Advocacy and Research Felicity Millner said the framework was a ‘very effective tool’ for achieving emission reductions which had the potential to be rolled out across jurisdictions.
‘It’s a simple mechanism that allows whatever target you want to choose, basically, to be met, certainly in relation to government action,’ Ms Millner said.
The charter document contains Victorian emissions targets of 25 per cent on year 2000 levels by 2020 and zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The state’s climate change act, which was introduced by Labor in 2010, contained a greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020 of 20 per cent below 2000 levels, but the act was weakened and the target removed by the coalition government elected the same year.
Friends of the Earth renewable energy spokesperson Leigh Ewbank said the charter, which would make Victoria a ‘world-leader’ if it were to be adopted, had brought Victoria’s major environment groups together on climate change policy for the first time in years, and they were hopeful it would be adopted.
‘The Andrews government have shown themselves to be open to good ideas and fresh thinking. We’ve seen them release a renewable energy roadmap that contained some interesting measures to grow renewables, so … it’s possible something like the charter could be included in their new climate laws,’ Mr Ewbank said.
The proposed charter also incorporates the introduction of a set of climate change principles, a climate strategy, the establishment of a Victorian Climate Authority and the power for citizens and organisations to take the government to court.
‘This proposal is really about empowering citizens to hold the government to account for their policymaking on climate,’ Mr Ewbank said.
Ms Millner acknowledged the charter provision for individuals or organisations to be able to seek judicial review of government decisions was ‘radical’ in the Australian context and was unlikely to meet with government approval, but said that the gravity of the issue warranted it.
‘Because it is such an important matter of public interest that affects every Victorian and at some level every citizen in the world, we think that if the government isn’t doing its job and meeting the targets … citizens should be able to do something about that directly,’ she said.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the government was waiting for the outcome of the committee’s review of the Victorian Climate Change Act later this year and would not ‘pre-empt its results’.