“I agree with the council that there is a need to develop an overarching climate change policy for NSW,” he said.
The framework being developed would cover “emissions reduction” and “outline whole-of-government policy direction and principles”,” he said. A second proposal involved a five-year “strategic plan for the NSW Climate Change Fund”.
The plans included “the development of a value for emissions savings”, documents prepared for cabinet approval show. This apparently implied the potential for a type of carbon price to help steer investment decisions.
The twin plans, targeted for approval by cabinet by mid-2017, were instead dropped after Ms Berejiklian replaced Mr Baird in January 2017.
The emergence of the documents comes after the Herald reported this week the government had all but ceased contact with the Climate Change Council in the past two years.
A spokesman for Mr Speakman, now the NSW Attorney-General, declined to comment, as did the council.
Mr Speakman’s successor as Environment Minister, Gabrielle Upton, declined to comment on cabinet proceedings, but denied the government had delayed acting on climate change.
“We accept the science of climate change, we take the issue seriously and we are working hard to achieve our objective of net-zero emissions by 2050,” Ms Upton said.
“To that end, the government is investing $1.4 billion through the Climate Change Fund for practical measures that will reduce emissions and protect the environment.”
The Opposition said the documents prove the government has neglected climate action.
“It shows the Premier and her ministers made a deliberate decision to walk away from even an aspirational goal of reaching net-zero emissions,” Adam Searle, Labor’s climate spokesman, said.
Kate Smolski, chief executive of the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said Premier Berejiklian had “presided over two of the hottest years in the state’s history – 2017 and 2018 – [and] she appears to have been thwarting attempts by her own public service to implement climate action plans”.
As the Herald has reported, the government has collected almost half a billion dollars more for its Climate Change Fund via a levy on consumers than it has spent.
The fund’s original priority of reducing emissions by cutting energy use has also morphed into other uses, such as supporting woodland conservation.
An indication the fund was being geared up to support Mr Speakman’s package of reforms is contained in a note in the 2017-18 annual report of the Office of Environment and Heritage.
The program underspent by $135.3 million “due to the delay in the government approval of the five-year strategic Climate Change Fund program,” the report said.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.