The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (EPA) commenced consultation last week on greenhouse gas and culture and heritage guidance for assessing proposals likely to have a significant impact on the environment under the Environment Protection Act 2019  (NT) (EP Act).

The guidance documents provide advice on:

  • A proponent's obligations in respect to the EP Act.
  • When to refer a proposed action based on GHG emissions and culture and heritage.
  • Requirements of assessment documentation relating to the Environmental Factor: Atmospheric Processes (GHG guideline) and Environmental Factor: Culture and Heritage (CH guideline).

The development of this guidance is generally consistent with the increased focus on GHG emissions and climate impacts, as well as impacts on culture and heritage, around Australia. It will be central to assessment and approval requirements, and ultimately demonstrating the acceptability of major project development in the NT moving forward.

GHG guideline

The release of the guidance document and the approach taken by the NT EPA is similar to that adopted in other States and Territories, particularly in Western Australia. The GHG guideline follows the release of the 'NT Government Climate Change Response: Towards 2050', which establishes the NT Government's target of net zero GHG emissions by 2050. It also follows the NT Government's policy 'Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management for New and Expanding Large Emitters' (Large Emitters Policy) released in September 2021. The draft guideline incorporates the NT Government's net zero GHG by 2050 target as its environmental objective.

It specifies proposed referral thresholds based on the level of GHG emissions generated by an action:

  • For an industrial proposed action: 100,000 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (scope 1) in any financial year over the life cycle of a proposed action;
  • For a land use proposed action: 500,000 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (scope 1) generated from a single clearing action, or cumulatively from multiple land clearing actions on a property over time.

The EPA has adopted the same thresholds as the NT Government's Large Emitters Policy. However the guidance makes it clear that the NT EPA will reserve its power to call in a proposed action for environmental assessment even if those thresholds are not met, for example for an action being planned if the emissions are just shy of the threshold in order to avoid referral.

Proponents will be required to demonstrate, through evidence, that all reasonable and practicable measures have been applied to reduce emissions. This will include through best practice design, technology and management. Benchmarking will also be required against other comparable actions/projects.

Proponents must demonstrate how they plan to improve performance over time, including setting targets for reducing emissions. If appropriate, offsets should be developed in accordance with the NT Offsets Framework. Where environmental assessment is required, the NT EPA is proposing to require proponents to prepare a greenhouse gas abatement plan which addresses scope 1 and scope 2 emissions.

CH guideline

The release of the CH guidance provides guidance on the decision by a proponent about whether or not to refer a proposed action to the NT EPA based upon a significant impact on the environment, including on a cultural aspect of the environment. The proposed requirements of the EPA are in addition to existing laws that protect cultural values, such as the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 (NT).

The EPA considers that the general duty of a proponent under the EP Act extends to:

  • Providing communities that may be affected by a proposed action with information and opportunities for consultation.
  • To consult in a culturally appropriate manner.
  • To seek and document community knowledge and understanding of the natural and cultural values of areas that may be impacted by a proposed action.
  • To address Traditional Owner values and the rights and interests of Traditional Owner communities in relation to areas that may be impacted by a proposed action.

The CH guidance sets out considerations for proponents when conducting a cultural heritage impact assessment. This includes an assessment of impacts from the planning, design, construction, operation, rehabilitation and closure of an action, and residual impacts that will persist at the end of life of an action. The assessment should consider both indirect and cumulative impacts on culture and heritage. The NT EPA may require mitigation measures proposed to manage, monitor and report on cultural impacts to be presented in a cultural heritage management plan.

Consultation on both guidelines is current open until 28 June 2022.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.