Voters in city seats support ban on new coal and gas projects, poll shows

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Darren England/EPA</span>
Photograph: Darren England/EPA

The majority of voters in several metropolitan areas support stopping new coal and gas projects and believe industrial polluters should not be able to use carbon offsets for all their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new polling.

The progressive thinktank the Australia Institute commissioned uComms to poll more than 800 residents in each of two “teal” electorates – Mackellar and Goldstein – and the Labor-held seats of Moreton Bennelong and Sydney.

Related: What is the IPCC AR6 synthesis report and why does it matter?

Support for banning new fossil fuel developments – a position advocated by the Greens and some crossbenchers, but rejected by the government – ranged from 51% in Moreton to 65% in Sydney, the Australia Institute said.

A majority in four of the seats agreed with a statement that polluting projects “should have to directly reduce their emissions, not use carbon offsets”. The proportion who said polluters should be able to use offsets for all their emissions ranged from just 7% in Mackellar to 12% in Goldstein.

It comes as the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, continues to negotiate with the Greens and crossbench MPs and senators over the design of the safeguard mechanism, a policy that the government says will require most of Australia’s 215 big polluting industrial sites to reduce emissions intensity by 4.9% a year.

The need to act rapidly to cut emissions will be underlined on Tuesday by the release of a major synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expected to reinforce that the world is approaching “irreversible” levels of global heating, with catastrophic impacts rapidly becoming inevitable, and that it is “now or never” to take drastic action to avoid disaster, including deep cuts in fossil fuel use.

The safeguard mechanism was introduced by the Coalition in 2016. It was promised to put a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from about 200 major industrial facilities.

It applies to facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. Each facility is set an emissions limit, known as a baseline.

The Coalition said companies that emitted above their baseline would have to buy carbon offsets or pay a penalty. In practice, facilities were allowed to change their baselines, few were penalised and industrial emissions continued to increase.

Labor plans to revamp the scheme.

It would set new baselines based on emissions intensity – how much a facility releases per unit of production. Baselines will be reduced by 4.9% a year.

Companies could choose whether to make onsite emissions cuts or buy Australian carbon credit units.

New polluting facilities, including gas and coalmines, could open and would be set baselines at “international best practice”.

Companies that emit less pollution than their baseline allows would be awarded a new type of “safeguard credit”. These within-scheme credits could be sold to other polluting facilities that emit more than their baseline and need offsets.

Labor wants the changes to start on 1 July 2023.

Negotiations between the government and Greens have been focused on finding a middle ground between Labor’s position that it will not breach its commitments before last year’s election and the minor party’s push to restrict fossil fuel expansion.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said his party would not be pushed into voting for a bill it did not believe went far enough to stop emissions increasing. He said the Greens would be likely to abstain in the House of Representatives, as it did with housing legislation, if the government tried to push the bill without an agreement in place.

“We’re not asking for the perfect, we’re asking for the bare minimum … not to make the problem worse,” he said. “We have always said that we will look at any proposals put on the table that deal with this question of coal and gas.”

Crossbench MPs said they were hopeful their concerns would be addressed. Those concerns include ensuring onsite emissions cuts are prioritised over allowing companies to buy offsets, and improving the integrity of the carbon offset system by the government quickly implementing the recommendations of the Chubb review of the scheme.

The government has said new fossil fuel developments will need to meet “international best practice”, but crossbenchers have pushed Labor to go further, including through an amendment put forward by Sophie Scamps to require new developments to be carbon neutral – that is, to offset all their emissions.

The independent senator David Pocock continued his push for a legislated overall emissions cap to ensure polluting did not increase as fossil fuel developments opened or expanded.

“That doesn’t seem like a big ask,” he told reporters in Canberra,

“We have to incentivise avoiding emissions, onsite abatement and, as a last resort, offsetting in the land sector.”

Scamps said it was an issue that companies could use unlimited offsets. “What we would like to see is real abatement … mandated,” she said.

Zali Steggall, the independent MP for Warringah, said her discussions with the government had been “productive”, and that it was considering an amendment she introduced to improve data collection and reporting on fugitive methane emissions, which trap far more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The International Energy Agency has estimated methane emissions from Australia’s coal and gas mines is about 60% higher than official government records suggests.

Transforming the safeguard mechanism, a failed Coalition policy, to bring down industrial emissions is a central part of Labor’s promise to cut national pollution to 43% below 2005 levels by 2030.