What’s next for the Climate Change Authority under Matt Kean’s leadership?

The appointment of high-profile New South Wales Liberal politician Matt Kean to chair the Climate Change Authority has sparked questions about what this body does. How does it influence climate policy in Australia?

When Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the appointment this week, he said Kean was “uniquely qualified” to lead the authority.

Kean, the former NSW treasurer and energy minister, said he would follow the authority’s tradition of providing independent advice to government “based on facts, science, evidence, engineering and economics”. He added:

And the experts tell us, and I agree with them, that if we get this transition right, we can not only put downward pressure on electricity bills for families and businesses right across the country, but we can protect our environment and make our economy even stronger and more prosperous for everyone forever.

I’ve been a member of the authority since 2022, in addition to my academic role. Here, I explain the authority’s priorities for the year ahead, and how it plans to help Australia thrive in our future low-emissions world.

What is the Climate Change Authority?

The Gillard Labor government established the Climate Change Authority through the Climate Change Authority Act 2011.

The independent statutory body provides expert advice to the federal government on climate change policy. Essentially, it aims to help the government to pursue evidence-based strategies to act decisively and effectively on this global challenge.

It produces an annual climate change statement and helps set Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. These tasks are specified in the Climate Change Act.

Setting emissions reduction targets is part of Australia’s obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

If the federal climate change minister rejects any part of the annual statement or the recommended emissions reduction targets, they must tell the parliament why, in writing.

The authority also conducts regular reviews of climate-related legislation, as well as its own independent research and analysis.

It comprises a chair, a chief scientist and up to seven other members, of which I am one.

Kean will assume the role of chair in early August when the current chair, Grant King, steps down.

Another new member, Patty Akopiantz, will join the authority to fill the position vacated by Sam Mostyn, who is shortly to be sworn in as governor general.

The authority has 65 staff and annual funding of around A$14 million. This includes the substantial boost in funding under Labor of $42.6 million over four years from 2022–23.

The authority meets at least eight times a year. A summary of each meeting is published on the authority’s website.

The work of the authority is distinct from, but complementary to, the role of the Net Zero Economy Agency. That agency works directly with investors, business, and regions to facilitate an orderly transition to a decarbonised economy.

What’s on the agenda in 2024?

The authority has three significant tasks this year. The first is to review the technology and emissions pathways that will best support Australia’s transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. It covers six sectors: agriculture and land; the built environment; electricity and energy; industry and waste; resources; and transport.

The final report will be handed to the minister at the beginning of August, before Kean takes the chair.

The second major task in this year is to recommend a 2035 emissions reduction target for Australia. This is central to Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, which involves ratcheting up emissions reduction over time.

In developing its advice, the authority is undertaking analysis across four areas:

  • alignment with the overall goals of the Paris Agreement including the global carbon emissions budget

  • wellbeing of the Australian population, with analysis of climate impacts on natural systems and human communities

  • the feasibility of emissions reduction targets in different sectors

  • the opportunities and costs for the Australian economy.

These reviews involved extensive consultation and consideration of more than 300 submissions.

Kean will present the recommended 2035 emissions reduction target and accompanying report to the minister in October.

The third major task for the authority is delivering the third annual “progress advice report” to the minister later this year. It will include a preliminary assessment of reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism – a policy imposing emissions-reduction requirements on Australia’s most polluting companies. The authority is assessing whether the mechanism is achieving its goals.

Helping Australia make the most of the transition

All this comes on top of several busy years for the authority.

In April last year, it released a report on Australia’s carbon sequestration potential, based on commissioned CSIRO analyses.

In October, the authority produced a report which found Australia is not yet on track to meet its legislated 2030 emissions reduction target, but that the target is still achievable. The report made 42 recommendations to help achieve the goal.

In December, the authority released its second review of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act, and its fourth review of carbon credits.

Australia is one of the world’s most vulnerable developed countries when it comes to climate change. We have already experienced devastating extreme events such as catastrophic flooding and the Black Summer bushfires. And our precious natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef has been decimated by multiple coral bleaching events.

But we also have abundant renewable resources to decarbonise our economy and exports. Ultimately, it’s the authority’s job to help Australia capitalise on these opportunities.

This article is republished from The Conversation. It was written by: Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University

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Lesley Hughes is a member of the Climate Change Authority. She has previously received funding from the Australian Research Council. She is affiliated with the Climate Council of Australia, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and the Biodiversity Council.