Strategies in Action
NSW NMBI talking points
The talking points below delve into some of the implications of banning new climate-damaging projects in NSW.
These talking points may be helpful when you are encouraging NSW state MPs to support adoption of the No More Bad Investments (NMBI) model legislation. These talking points assume that the person you are talking with accepts that at least some action is necessary to tackle the climate emergency.
Note: This page has not been updated in a while, so a few details may have changed in the last few years, but the key points remain valid.
1. The NSW government can control the types of projects it approves within NSW regardless of federal policies. By banning new climate-damaging projects NSW would be demonstrating climate-related ‘duty of care’, making it easier for other states and territories to do the same.more...
Climate impacts are already killing people and destroying ecosystems, so any government that allows new projects that increase carbon emissions is failing in its duty of care to its citizens.
Federal climate-related policies are far from adequate. However, if enough states and territories enact No More Bad Investments (NMBI) legislation as a first step in taking climate emergency action it will normalise the practice of governments passing legislation based on climate ethics and restoration of a safe climate.
2. Banning new climate-damaging projects before they start is relatively easy compared with phasing out existing sources of carbon emissions.more...
While equally necessary, closing existing fossil fuel activity would be much harder and take longer, involving transition programs for workers and possible compensation claims from affected corporations, and requiring rapid roll-out of replacement renewable energy infrastructure.
Adopting NMBI legislation is a logical and significant first step in taking climate emergency action even though much more is required.
3. NSW doesn’t need any new coal or gas projects to ‘keep the lights on’. NMBI legislation would stop any new coal or gas-fired power stations being built, and stop any new fossil-fuel extraction projects, but the resultant market certainty would encourage new renewable energy generation and storage projects to quickly meet any potential future shortfall.more...
Even now all-electric households with solar panels are on the rise, meaning the demand for gas is likely to fall.
With NMBI legislation in place and carefull planning, taking into account likely closure dates of aging coal-fired power stations and potential depletion dates of current coal and gas sources, NSW can have more renewable electricity generation and grid-level storage in place in plenty of time to ‘keep the lights on’.
From Dept of Energy, Innovation and Science (2017) (https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/f02a388d-74eb-4200-96fb-fe2a9d0caf5b/files/energy-update-report-2017.pdf):
Australia’s domestic consumption of coal and gas has risen only slightly over the last 40 years. We now extract almost three times as much ‘energy’ as we need.
80% of the coal we dig up is exported. A 27% increase in gas extraction in 2015-16 resulted mainly from new CSG wells drilled in Queensland to support the expansion of LNG exports from Gladstone. We certainly don’t need any new coal mines or gas wells to have sufficient fossil fuel supply to keep existing power generators running while we transition to renewable electricity generation.
4. It will give market certainty to assist the rapid roll-out of climate-safe alternatives if new climate-damaging projects are banned in spheres where climate-safe alternatives already exist, and timelines for future bans are set in other cases.more...
Investment in new renewable energy generation and storage will flow in if new fossil fuel projects are banned. Electric vehicles and charging stations will expand if a timeline is set for banning new fossil fuelled vehicles.
When stringent new lighting efficiency standards were adopted, in effect banning sale of incandescent lamps, they were quickly replaced by a range of compact fluorescent lamps. This soon led to the development of even more efficient LED lamps. This transition was accomplished with minimal disruption and very little opposition from the general public simply because better alternatives quickly became available as a result of the tighter efficiency standards.
5. We not only need to reach zero net carbon emissions but we also need to draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere in order to restore a safe climate. Renewing expiring Regional Forestry Agreements (RFAs) is the one of the worst things the government could do in terms of exacerbating climate change disaster.more...
Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis, releasing oxygen back into the air and storing captured carbon in trunks, branches, roots, and soil. When a branch drops or a tree eventually dies, the actions of microbes, fungi, and insects hasten its decomposition so that the carbon captured in the wood replenishes the forest soils. If left intact, with its lifeforms undisturbed, the forest does this most efficiently. Likewise, if left intact, forest soils hold and store the carbon.
Forests were afforded their own article in the Paris Agreement (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2015) because they are so critical for their role in sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon. Protecting native forests, rather than logging them, is the most effective way to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In 2018 NSW government is intending to make a new agreement with the federal government to renew expiring Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) and so entrench industrial logging of NSW native forests in excess of 20 years.
When established in the late 1990’s with an intended duration of twenty years, RFAs did not take into account disruption to the forest carbon cycle by industrial logging. We now understand how RFA logging releases carbon previously ‘stored’ in native forests back into the atmosphere. Industrial logging degrades carbon stocks and they begin to function as a carbon source instead of a great natural carbon sink (Montreal Process Implementation Group for Australia and National Forest Inventory Steering Committee 2013, ABARES 2015).
Industrial logging of native forests is responsible for 15-20% of Australia’s total CO2 emissions, the equivalent of that from the entire transport system (Blakers, M, 2009, and Blakers, M, 2011). A multi-aged, multi-layered intact native forest is carbon dense (Keith et al. 2009) but we have permitted 44% of that carbon to be lost from Australia’s forests (Wardell-Johnson et al. 2011).
A logged forest loses between 40 and 60% of its carbon stocks (Roxburgh et al. 2006, Mackey et al. 2008), so it is clear that significant carbon emission reductions can be made by ending native forest logging (Keith et al. 2014, Keith et al. 2015, Macintosh et al. 2015).
The former Australian Government’s climate report “The Critical Decade” recognises the need to protect native forests immediately as a key climate change mitigation strategy. (Climate Commission, 2011 and Garnaut, R, 2011)
To lower emissions we must protect native forests. To protect native forests we must not renew or allow to be extended the now expiring NSW Regional Forest Agreements. Instead we must restore native forests to re-attain maximum efficiency as a carbon sink.
Note: Proponents of ongoing logging argue that if forests are left alone the risk of bushfire is increased and that the risk of releasing emissions to the atmosphere is increased. However, forest and climate scientists explain why this approach to forest management is not appropriate. Most of the carbon stored in an intact or restored forest is in the woody biomass and soil, which is not burnt in fires. In addition logging increases fire risk by opening up the forest, increasing the amount of fuel on its floor, and drying the forest out. (http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/06/16/2599532.htm)
6. Using wood biomass for electricity generation is worse than using coal despite international (IPCC) agreements treating this as ‘renewable energy’.more...
The ‘carbon neutral’ myth of burning wood for energy.
Substituting wood biomass for coal or burning it alone and calling it renewable because ‘trees regrow’ does not make it carbon neutral.
Burning wood biomass immediately releases carbon dioxide into the air. In addition the logging to supply the wood biomass destroys the capacity of the forest to store and absorb carbon. Left to grow the forest will go on absorbing and storing exponentially more carbon as it matures, through ever-spreading canopies, larger (carbon) dense trunks and branches, and the extensive root systems beneath and along the forest floor.
The international wood biomass for energy/fuel trade is a major driver of the industrial logging severely degrading world forests. Greenhouse gas emissions from forest degradation are now double those of the previous decade – from an average of 0.4 Gt CO2 yr-1 in the period 1991–2000 to an average of 1.0 Gt CO2 yr-1 for 2011–2015 (http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/j9345e/j9345e07.htm).
Forest biomass for energy can release three times more carbon than fossil fuels. (https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/woody-biomass-power-and-heat-impacts-global-climate)
To ‘re-absorb’ the carbon released by the logging and burning of forests will take centuries, time we don’t have. As the global extinction rate is already catastrophic and increasing exponentially, forest dependent organisms cannot endure this trend, nor will most lifeforms on earth cope with further loss of the critical global forest carbon sink. For this reason forest wood biomass should not be regarded as or promoted as being a renewable, i.e. a carbon neutral form of renewable energy.
Vested interests underpin flaws in international carbon emission accounting that allow subsidies to flow from directives that burning wood biomass is carbon neutral, therefore eligible for consideration as a renewable. It’s not carbon neutral. It’s highly irresponsible. Here is what scientists really think, including an ex IPCC scientist compelled to speak publically about ‘the myth’ that burning wood biomass is carbon neutral.
Meanwhile, in NSW, the government is rushing through its forest biomass agenda. Three forests furnaces are mooted for the NSW North Coast to use what is being termed ‘one million spare tonnes’ of native forest biomass. It’s not spare. It’s trees that desperate animals need to live in, and which would absorb more and more carbon if left standing. The industry refers to this wood as ‘residues’ but examination of the legislation reveals that it permits the burning of whole trees.
Permission to burn forest biomass for power as a renewable was granted in 2013 by the NSW LNP in the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Biomaterial) Regulation 2013 whereby “material resulting from forestry operations carried out on land to which an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) applies under Part 5B of the Forestry Act 2012” was made eligible for subsidy when burnt. This applies to most material from most public native forests in NSW (which are logged under Commonwealth/State Regional Forest Agreements regulated by the IFOA regulatory system.)
Under the proposed National Energy Guarantee (NEG) which would remove the Renewable Energy Target, coal and wood biomass are still promoted. By deeming wood biomass also a ‘dispatchable’ power source, and by directing that energy retailers must purchases a complement of ‘dispatchable’ power, an energy market for wood biomass could be created.
Globally, vested interests manipulate governments to extend the wood biomass carbon neutral myth. Governments claim to be meeting emission reduction targets by reporting the percentage increase in renewable energy uptake, never really accounting for the emissions created by wood biomass energy. The wood biomass energy emissions are not accounted for in the energy sector as they are assumed to be accounted for in the land use sector, which they are not, at least not with any accuracy. Those supplying the wood biomass trade simply claim they have sourced the wood from sustainably managed forests.
As recently as January 2018 the European parliament failed to support genuine renewable energy initiatives when it had an opportunity to reverse the European Union’s (EU) disastrous Renewable Energy Directive which, since 2009, has encouraged Member States to burn wood for ‘renewable energy’.
This places the world in jeopardy. Here is a small sample of esteemed scientific opinion, as yet ignored by decision makers. Frequently it takes the form of scientists’ open letters to government, both in Australia and across the world:
7. The NSW government has adopted an emissions reduction target of zero net emissions by 2050. Continuing to allow NEW climate-damaging projects is a bit like frantically trying to bail water out quickly enough to stop a boat sinking without doing anything to stop a person at the other end of the boat who is merrily tipping more water in.more...
In practice, climate impacts are already threatening lives and our well-being, so a more realistic target would be to reach net zero emissions absolutely as quickly as possible and to go beyond net zero emissions by drawing down the excess carbon already in the atmosphere. It makes no sense to continue to allow new climate-damaging projects that will make achieving climate targets harder, particularly in cases where climate-safe alternatives are already available.
New coal mines and gas wells are a particular concern since most, if not all, coal and gas from NEW extraction projects will be exported. Exported fossil fuels do not count against reaching local carbon reduction targets. Even if NSW meets its net zero emissions target, the actual climate benefit of doing so could be completely(?) wiped out by the climate harm caused by allowing NEW fossil fuel exports.
8. Will NSW become rich from allowing new gas/coal extraction or native forest logging? The short answer is no, although even if allowing new gas and coal projects were to earn a lot in royalties, for climate reasons it would be very shortsighted to allow them.more...
According to NSW government resources and energy data, NSW received $1.08 billion in coal royalties in 2015-2016 from ALL its existing coal mines, so the amount in royalties NSW would forgo by banning a new coal mine (or extension of existing ones) is clearly not enormous.
A figure is not given for gas royalties, but the total royalty figure from ALL sources other than coal (minerals and gas) was $106 million in that year, so banning new gas wells is unlikely to reduce future royalty revenue by much.
NOPSEMA recently approved exploration for gas off the NSW coast. Since this is offshore, NSW would receive no royalties for any gas extracted. The extracted gas would be subject to Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) payable to the Federal Treasury, but due to the way the PRRT is set up, no PRRT would be payable for at least a decade, and in the meantime PRRT ‘credits’ would offset any income tax liability.
What’s more, since we really don’t need any more gas for use within Australia, it is almost inevitable that most if not all of the extracted gas would be exported. Exported fossil fuels don’t count against reaching NSW carbon reduction targets, but the climate harm from burning exported gas could potentially wipe out any actual climate benefit of reaching our targets.
In the case of native forest logging the Australian public is losing money. To renew expiring Regional Forest Agreements (which legislate to permit native forest logging) would therefore be uneconomic. The NSW Forestry Corporation softwood plantations cross-subsidise native forest logging to such an extent that the industry is determined to attempt to enter the renewable energy market, and is therefore claiming that burning native forests for energy is carbon neutral.
Across the country state logging agencies do not return profits and receive more than tens of millions of dollars worth of subsidies from state treasuries every year (see The Australia Institute 2016 report, Barking up the wrong trees: Forest Products Commission (FPC) and the performance of its native forestry). There have been numerous government “stimulus packages” and multi-million dollar “exit payments” to encourage loggers out of native forests ($13 million in Victoria in 2003 alone, Victorian Auditor General’s Office, 2003).
NSW native forest logging cost taxpayers $79 million in direct subsidies between financial years 2009-10 to 2014-5. This is independent of the subsidisation of a series of failed experiments for converting native forest wood to forms suitable for co-generation with coal.
Another massive hidden cost is the multi-millions of ratepayers’ money spent by local governments repairing roads destroyed by logging trucks that transport NSW timber primarily for a multinational company that exports the bulk of it to China. (Note: Forestry Corporation is exempt from paying rates.)
These millions in losses exclude an economic valuation of the loss of water, the conservation value of the forests, or recreation amenity due to forest destruction.
If logging in native forests stopped, there would be hundreds of millions of dollars saved and many more to be made in terms of eco-tourism and increased water yields. (Tourism Queensland, 1999)
For climate reasons it is imperative to leave native forests standing, but it also makes economic sense to do so.
9. Expansion of distributed renewable energy infrastructure will create jobs. Fossil fuel companies like to stress that their projects create local direct and indirect jobs and follow-on economic activity. True! But new renewable energy projects and other climate-safe projects do the same, possibly in even greater numbers.more...
Perhaps the most relevant difference is that fossil fuel companies are asking the state government to approve new projects. All the government has to do is say yes to the proposed project and the jobs and benefits of the increased economic activity will happen. In contrast, the state government may have to put some effort into strategies to encourage new clean-tech or other climate-safe projects. However, if there were a legislated ban on new climate-damaging projects, that in itself would give market certainty and encourage new renewable energy and other safe projects.
10. Australia can develop new climate-safe exports to make up for forgoing potential future export income that might accrue from new fossil fuel extraction projects. Note that NMBI legislation would ban NEW fossil fuel extraction projects and the resultant new export agreements, but adoption of NMBI legislation would not affect current export income. So, just how much or how little will NMBI legislation affect future export income potential? Probably less than most people might think.more...
Banning new fossil fuel extraction projects would indeed affect future export income since virtually all new extraction would be for export. Australia’s domestic energy consumption has been close to flat for the last 40 years, and over half of what we extract is exported (Point 3 above). Various states have carbon reduction targets which, if met, will mean we need less and less extraction to meet domestic demand as time progresses. Assuming our current mines and wells are not depleted any time soon, we should need no new extraction projects to meet a falling domestic demand (and if they are approaching depletion, new renewable energy projects can be built to meet demand rather than allowing new extraction projects).
But, export income is important to Australia’s economy. The majority of companies wanting to extract and export Australian fossil fuels are likely to be foreign-owned, meaning the income from selling the actual commodity stays outside Australia. However, we do receive an injection of foreign funds to the extent that foreign companies pay wages and buy goods and services within Australia.
Other potential sources of foreign funds from foreign-owned companies are company tax and royalties. In the case of gas, Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) also applies, but due to its design as a ‘super profits’ tax, new gasfields are unlikely to pay any PRRT for a decade or more, and in the meantime PRRT ‘credits’ reduce the amount of company tax payable.
New coal and onshore gas extraction attracts state royalties, but based on historical figures (see Point 8 above) the amounts are likely to be less than one might expect, partidularly since new extraction projects tend to receive more in subsidies and other state government assistance than established projects.
So, yes, it is important to maintain Australia’s future export income, but given the small amount of export income we actually receive from fossil fuel exports, it should be relatively easy to replace that with new climate-safe exports and new foreign investment in local renewable energy projects provided we plan and prepare accordingly.
Of course we need to stop new fossil projects of all types for climate reasons regardless of what it might cost us, but it seems we are not as dependent on fossil fuel exports for our prosperity anywhere as much as the fossil fuel industry tends to imply.
11. NMBI legislation would stop all new climate-damaging projects once and for all. Currently, as soon as one proposed new coal mine, gasfield, or oil well is successfully stopped as a result of community opposition based around local environmental impacts or other non-climate reasons, another similar proposal nearby or elsewhere takes its place.more...
Currently the NSW government deals with endless submissions and appeals related to threats to groundwater, endangered species, soils, native title, etc., whenever it receives an application for a new fossil fuel or forestry-related project. Under NMBI legislation, there would be no new fossil fuel project or native forest logging applications.