We need a national renewables approach, or some states – like NSW – will miss out



In the absence of federal policy, states are pursing their own renewable targets.
Karsten Würth/Unsplash

Scott Hamilton, University of Melbourne; Changlong Wang, University of Melbourne, and Roger Dargaville, Monash University

Australia’s primary federal renewable energy target – to have 33 terawatts of renewable energy by 2020 – has essentially been achieved. There is much uncertainty as to what is next.

In the absence of a new national target, the states have been leading the way and driving renewable energy in Australia. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland between them have invested some A$20 billion into building 11,400 megawatts of generation capacity.

While the states have worked admirably to advance renewable energy – and federal energy policy has long been politically toxic – there is a clear cost to pursuing many fragmented policies instead of a unified vision.

Our research, modelling the effect of state versus national renewable energy targets in the National Energy Market system found there was little difference in the overall cost, but that states without strong renewable targets tended to miss out on investment.

We need national thinking

Most jurisdictions have net zero emissions targets by 2050. States also have ambitious but achievable shorter-term renewable energy targets and programs.

There are plenty of arguments for states pursuing their own renewable energy targets, not least because they can fill the policy vacuum left at the national level.

States are responding to the immediate need to replace retiring power stations and can explore innovation with greater ambition. It makes perfect sense for states to compete to attract jobs and investment.

But Australia’s federal government has a domestic and international obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. National policies are more efficient, can harness better resources across our diverse geography and maximise returns for the whole system.

What’s more – as many column inches have pointed out – strong federal policy improves investment certainty and reliability, lowering the cost of inevitable infrastructure upgrades. And those upgrades can be better integrated into our existing national electricity system if the building (and money) doesn’t stop at internal borders.

To provide some insight and help move the debate forward, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub have collaborated on research that was presented at an international conference in Denmark earlier this year.

Quantifying the difference

We simulated two scenarios: first, that all states implement polices to achieve their respective renewable energy and net zero emissions targets by 2050.

The second scenario assumed a national target would be used to result in the “same outcome” of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The model calculates required energy investments with 5-year increments from today to 2050, including considering the existing generation currently operating. The model simultaneously optimises the mix of generation, transmission and storage to minimise the total system cost from 2020 to 2050.

A key difference in results is where and when new generation is built. Under the state-driven approach, unsurprisingly, investment shifts towards states with more ambitious targets.

The two figures below show how state-based targets drive more investment into Queensland than would be the case under a national target scheme.

Spatial distribution of renewable generation

Broadly speaking, under a national target, we see more efficient use of renewable energy and associated resources. NSW – with net zero 2050 target but no interim renewable energy target – would get a greater share of the renewable energy investment.

Change in energy generation %

NSW would consistently see substantially more investment under a national target scheme. This would be around 20% more generation in the 2030s in NSW, and up to 20 terawatt-hours more energy generated in the years 2030 to 2045.

The rollout of “where and when” to build new renewable and other generation to replace ageing fossil fuel power plants also impacts heavily on the sequencing and timing for major transmission upgrades across the NEM – especially interconnectors between states.

Transmission networks modelled.

The graph shows that under a state target based approach we build more transmission infrastructure earlier than under a national approach. Under a national target approach, we would end up building more transmission infrastructure – albeit later.

Again, broadly speaking, we would build more generation at renewable energy resource-rich areas such as NSW which happen to be near major demand centres like cities. This would delay the need for some infrastructure spend.

What about system reliability and energy costs?

The good news is it appears under either a state-based or a national target approach the outcome in 2050 is similar. The difference in total system costs is only about 1% higher in the state-based targets scenario – so, virtually nothing.

Evolution of electricity generation – total system.

State-based renewable energy targets lead to redistribution of renewable investments in favour of the states with a mid-term renewable energy target.

In the Australian context, the current state-based renewable energy targets have no impact on undermining power system reliability and virtually negligible impact on pushing up power prices.

Perhaps NSW should take particular note – as it would appear that it would benefit greatly from either a national target approach or an interim state target for itself.

The debate about state versus national approaches to energy policy has been going for the past 30 years and no doubt will be around for another 30. In the meantime, we need a stronger hand on the transition tiller or we will waste precious resources and time, and likely have major unintended consequences.




Read more:
Making Australia a renewable energy exporting superpower


The Conversation


Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne; Changlong Wang, Researcher, The Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne, and Roger Dargaville, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The UK has a national climate change act – why don’t we?



It’s time Australian politicians were guided by national climate change legislation.
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Anna Skarbek, Monash University; Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia; Cameron Hepburn, University of Oxford, and Matthew Carl Ives, University of Oxford

No matter who wins the upcoming federal election, both the ALP and LNP are committed to remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement.

This means every five years Australia is expected to submit progressively stronger targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and report on progress. And by 2020, Australia is expected to submit a long-term emissions reduction strategy showing how to get to net zero emissions.




Read more:
UK becomes first country to declare a ‘climate emergency’


Regardless of what policy mix is chosen to achieve this, the process of hitting the Paris targets is now a permanent feature of economy-wide decision-making, one that will need credible ongoing support from government and businesses. Policy uncertainty, and a lack of national framework, has reduced investment confidence.

The UK has shown how national climate change legislation can guide institutional action, and not only dramatically cut emissions, but also promote economic growth.

Victoria rolled out similar legislation in 2017, one of the first pieces of legislation in the world to be modelled on the Paris Agreement.

But Australia lacks a national version of Victoria’s or UK’s legislation.

We have national targets, but not yet ongoing systems embedded in departments. These systems would include measures to ensure continuous target-setting every five years (as used in other jurisdictions) with guidelines and progress reporting obligations. A lack of national legislation means the community and businesses lack transparency about Australia’s long-term direction, pace and progress.

How national climate change legislation would work

A national Climate Change Act would reduce recognise climate change was not taken into account when many current laws were developed, and reduce policy instability around Australian meeting our Paris obligations by:

  • providing a role for governments and courts to flesh out and stabilise the low carbon transition

  • guiding an emissions reductions path that looks ten years ahead, across all sectors of the economy, and that can be ratcheted up if policies fail to meet their targets

  • ensuring transparent reporting of emissions and progress towards meeting interim Paris Agreement targets

  • allocating responsibilities across government for reporting and climate-conscious planning

  • signalling to business, communities and government agencies about emerging opportunities in a low carbon economy.

How Victoria did it

In 2017, the Victorian Labor government rolled out state-wide climate legislation, the Victorian Climate Change Act.

This legislation recognises how addressing climate change needs a whole-of-government approach, extending obligations to each state government portfolio.

And it has already catalysed climate change reporting and planning activity across government. An independent committee
has been tasked with advising on the first ten years of emissions budgets.

Government departments are preparing adaptation plans for each sector, reviewing operational guidelines and establishing regular reporting of emissions in sectors and their future plans.




Read more:
Australia’s major parties’ climate policies side-by-side


The UK’s success story

The UK passed its Climate Change Act in 2008 with a near unanimous vote. It has guided government decisions on national energy and industrial policy ever since.

The Act contains a process for setting economy-wide, multi-year targets, generating a clear, but flexible path towards its long-term objective – an 80% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s not explicit about how targets are to be met and successive governments have been free to choose their own mitigation policies.

What has resulted is a clear shift away from the politics of the past where climate change action was traded off against other government goals.

Ever since the Act passed, subsequent UK parliaments have created management and efficiency initiatives, a minimum price on carbon (called carbon price floors), renewable energy targets, competitive reverse auction schemes and capacity markets.

The UK’s national climate change act has dramatically reduced their carbon emissions to below 1860s levels.
Shutterstock

Combined, these policies promote a competitive, sustainable, low carbon energy supply, along with economic growth and increased national energy security.

And the results have been extraordinary: emissions in the UK have fallen dramatically since 2008, with the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions now below 1860s levels.

National transparency would improve the market

With a clear legislative process with interim targets every five years, a Climate Change Act for Australia would provide businesses and the public with a certainty around the pace of climate change action that reaches beyond the political cycles.

Governments would still have the freedom to choose interim targets and how to deliver them, but the legislation would create transparency around our obligations.

It would also ensure that a transition to a low-carbon future does not risk financial stability.

Regulatory bodies, such as the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Bank of England, and the Financial Stability Board, recognise the necessity for climate change legislation to create confidence in markets. They are already applying pressure to local and international financial markets to improve disclosure of climate risk.

Finally, national legislation would ensure the market and the public are kept up-to-date about progress and future pathways, and how they can be involved in the process along the way. This includes investing in Australia’s potential as a new lower-carbon powerhouse.




Read more:
Cutting cities’ emissions does have economic benefits – and these ultimately outweigh the costs


Let’s agree what is agreed, and move on

Australian politicians don’t often agree on climate change action, but the major parties do agree on Australia staying in the Paris Agreement.

A national Climate Change Act for Australia would embody this commitment, aligning us with the international process in a policy-flexible framework. Agreement on such an Act would show the Australian public that each party is serious about tackling climate change, providing a stable platform for the next parliament.The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University; Anna Malos, Project Manager, climate and energy policy, ClimateWorks Australia; Cameron Hepburn, Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Oxford, and Matthew Carl Ives, Senior Researcher in Economics, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia needs a national plan to face the growing threat of climate disasters


Robert Glasser, Australian National University

We are entering a new era in the security of Australia, not because of terrorism, the rise of China, or even the cybersecurity threat, but because of climate change. If the world warms beyond 2℃, as seems increasingly likely, an era of disasters will be upon us, with profound implications for how we organise ourselves to protect Australian lives, property and economic interests, and our way of life.

The early warning of this era is arriving almost daily, in news reports from across the globe of record-breaking heatwaves, prolonged droughts, massive bushfires, torrential flooding, and record-setting storms.

In a new special report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, I argue that Australia is not facing up to the pace of these worsening threats. We need a national strategy to deal specifically with climate disaster preparedness.




Read more:
Explainer: are natural disasters on the rise?


Even without climate change, the impact of these natural hazards is enormous. More than 500 Australians – roughly the same number who died in the Vietnam War – die each year from heat stress alone. The annual economic costs of natural disasters are projected to increase to A$39 billion by 2050. This is roughly equivalent to what the federal government spends each year on the Australian Defence Force.

Climate change will dramatically increase the frequency and severity of many of these hazards. The number of record hot days in Australia has doubled in the past 50 years, and heatwaves have become longer and hotter. Extreme fire weather days have increased in recent decades in many regions of Australia. Shorter and more intense rainstorms that trigger flash floods and urban flooding are also becoming more frequent, and sea level has been rising at an accelerated rate since 1993.

Australians are already exposed to a wide range of the hazards that climate change is amplifying. Almost 4 million of our people, and about 20% of our national economic output, are in areas with high or extreme risk of tropical cyclones. Meanwhile, 2.2 million people and 11% of economic activity are in places with high or extreme risk of bushfire.

Chronic crisis

As the frequency of extreme events increases, we are likely to see an increase in events happening at the same time in different parts of the country, or events following hard on the heels of previous ones. Communities may weather the first few setbacks but, in their weakened state, be ultimately overwhelmed.

Large parts of the country that are currently marginally viable for agriculture are increasingly likely to be in chronic crisis, from the compounding impacts of the steady rise of temperature, drought and bushfires.

The scale of those impacts will be unprecedented, and the patterns that the hazards take will change in ways that are difficult to predict. Australia’s fire season, for example, is already getting longer. Other research suggests that tropical cyclones are forming further from the Equator as the planet warms, putting new areas of eastern Australia in harm’s way.

This emerging era of disasters will increasingly stretch emergency services, undermine community resilience, and escalate economic costs and losses of life. Federal, state and local governments all need to start preparing now for the unprecedented scale of these emerging challenges.

Queensland as a case study

Queensland’s recent experience illustrates what could lie ahead for all of Australia. Late last year, a major drought severely affected the state. At that time, a senior manager involved in coordinating the state’s rebuilding efforts following Cyclone Debbie commented that his team was in the ironic situation of rebuilding from floods during a drought. The drought was making it difficult to find water to mix with gravel and to suppress the dust associated with rebuilding roads.

The drought intensified, contributing to an outbreak of more than 140 bushfires. This was followed and exacerbated by an extreme heatwave, with temperatures in the 40s that smashed records for the month of November. Bushfire conditions in parts of Queensland were classified as “catastrophic” for the first time since the rating scale was developed in 2009. More than a million hectares of bush and farmland were destroyed – the largest expanse of Queensland affected by fire since records began.

Just days later, Tropical Cyclone Owen approached the Queensland coast, threatening significant flooding and raising the risk of severe mudslides from the charred hillsides. Owen set an Australian record in dumping 681 millimetres of rain in just 24 hours – more than Melbourne usually receives in a year. It did not, however, diminish the drought gripping much of the state.

A few weeks later, record rains flooded more than 13.25 million hectares of Northern Queensland, killing hundreds of thousands of drought-stressed cattle. As two Queensland graziers wrote at the time: “Almost overnight we have transitioned from relative drought years to a flood disaster zone.”

Time to prepare

We need to begin preparing now for this changing climate, by developing a national strategy that outlines exactly how we move on from business as usual and adopt a more responsible approach to climate disaster preparedness.

It makes no sense for the federal government to have two separate strategies (as it currently does) for disaster resilience and climate change adaptation. Given that 90% of major disasters worldwide are from climate-related hazards such as storms, droughts and floods, these two strategies should clearly be merged.

One of the prime objectives of the new strategy should be to scale up Australia’s efforts to prevent hazards from turning into disasters. Currently, the federal government spends 30 times more on rebuilding after disasters than it does on reducing the risks in the first place.




Read more:
Properties under fire: why so many Australians are inadequately insured against disaster


Australia should be leading global calls for urgent climate action, not just because we’re so vulnerable to climate hazards, but also for traditional national security reasons. We are the wealthiest nation in a region full of less-developed countries that are hugely vulnerable to climate change. Shocks to their food security, economic interests and political stability will undermine our own national security.

No military alliance, deployment of troops or new weapon system will adequately protect Australia from this rapidly escalating threat. The only effective “forward defence” is to reduce greenhouse gases globally, including in Australia, as quickly as possible. Without far greater ambition on this front, the scale of the disasters that lie ahead will overwhelm even the most concerted efforts to strengthen the resilience of Australian communities.


This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on The Strategist.The Conversation

Robert Glasser, Honorary Associate Professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The planned national waste policy won’t deliver a truly circular economy



File 20180928 72336 16wjfyo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The proposed policy doesn’t quite fit all the pieces together.
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Jenni Downes, University of Technology Sydney

Australia’s government has announced new planned waste recycling targets, as part of its response to the crisis prompted by China’s decision to crack down on recycling imports earlier this year.

The wider goal of Australia’s plan to update the National Waste Policy is to embrace circular economy principles.

That process is now in train. Following engagement with industry and government working groups, a proposed update to the policy is now open for public comment.

So how well does the proposed new policy incorporate circular economy principles? The short answer is, not well enough.




Read more:
Explainer: what is the circular economy?


A circular economy is centred on keeping products, components and materials circulating in use for as long as possible, through long-lasting design, repair, reuse, re-manufacturing and recycling. The ultimate aim is to minimise the amount of resources consumed, and waste generated, by our economic activities.

The proposed principles, targets and strategies are a good start. They will help tackle a range of issues, including:

  • dealing with China’s recycling imports crackdown by improving local capacity
  • increasing the currently limited responsibility for products at end of life
  • focusing on organic waste (such as food and textiles), one of the major obstacles to current recovery rates
  • reducing litter and marine plastic debris
  • harmonising the various disparate state policies.
Synthesis of proposed National Waste Policy.
UTS Institute for Sustainable futures adapted from Department of Environment and Energy

Yet these proposals, while all crucial, represent only a moderate evolution from our current situation, rather than the revolution needed to truly embrace the circular economy.

The policy’s major focus is still on recycling and recovery, and while recycling is certainly a “circular” activity, the circular economy involves so much more than simply improving how we reclaim and reprocess unwanted materials.

A truly circular society aims to transform our whole system of production and consumption, with innovative approaches like “products as services” (through leasing or collaborative consumption) and designing for next life and new life (through repairability, modularity and disassembly).

Linear, recycling and circular economies.
Adapted by ISF from Netherlands Government-wide Programme for a Circular Economy

Global changes, local opportunities

The proposed policy misses the opportunity to focus on innovation and create a step change in not only the resource recovery industry, but our whole economy and broader society.

The public arguably has more awareness of this issue than ever before, thanks to the continuing emergence of sustainability as a concept, combined with China’s shock to our recycling industry and the media focus afforded by campaigns such as the ABC’s War on Waste documentary series.

Public awareness and expectation is one thing, but to deliver on these goals the national waste policy must strengthen the explicit adoption of circular economy principles and significantly increase support to transition towards it.

This includes such things as:

  • appointment of a Commissioner for Circular Economy
  • explicit targets for reuse, repair, reassembly and remanufacture
  • “Circular” procurement of goods and infrastructure
  • support for innovation in business models for circular economy
  • standards for imports, not just local production
  • federal tax incentives, funding, and research and development to enable all of the above.

Australia has a unique opportunity to lay the building blocks for the type of economy and society we want. Let’s hope we can get it right.The Conversation

Jenni Downes, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australians need a national environment protection agency to safeguard their health


David Shearman, University of Adelaide

Australia needs an independent national agency charged with safeguarding the environment and delivering effective climate policy, according to a new campaign launched today by a coalition of environmental, legal and medical NGOs.

Most Western democracies have established national regulatory action, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency – yet Australia is a notable exception.

Today in Canberra, the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) will hold a symposium on the reform of environmental laws in Australia. If enacted, these proposals would offer protection to Australia’s declining biodiversity and environment, as well as helping to safeguard Australians’ health.




Read more:
Climate policy is a fiendish problem for governments – time for an independent authority with real powers


The proposal would involve establishing a high-level Commonwealth Environment Commission (CEC) that would be responsible for Commonwealth strategic environmental instruments, in much the same way that the Reserve Bank is in charge of economic levers such as interest rates.

The new CEC would manage a nationally coordinated system of environmental data collection, monitoring, auditing and reporting, the conduct of environmental inquiries of a strategic nature, and the provision of strategic advice to the Commonwealth government on environmental matters, either upon request or at its own initiative. The necessary outcomes would then be delivered by government and ministers via a newly created National Environmental Protection Authority (NEPA).

Tomorrow, this call will be echoed by a major alliance of leading environmental groups, including Doctors for the Environment Australia. Similar to the CEC/NEPA proposal, this group has called for an independent “National Sustainability Commission” that would develop conservation plans, monitor invasive species, and set nationally binding air pollution standards and climate adaptation plans.

The new body would replace the EPBC Act, which has failed to deliver the protections it promised in key areas such as land clearing and species protection, and has no role in limiting climate change which is a major factor in species loss.

The new agencies would be in a position to provide authoritative and understandable consensus reports, similar to those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but with a stronger legal basis on which the government should act on its advice.

Why change the system?

The rationale for reform is clear. Only last week the International Energy Agency reported that Earth’s greenhouse emissions have increased yet again. Meanwhile, extreme weather events have increased, while wildlife diversity is on the decline.

Having failed so far to arrest these trends, the governments of countries with high standards of living and high greenhouse emissions should be held particularly accountable. Clearing land and burning forest for firewood are understandable survival strategies for the poor, but unacceptable in rich nations.

Australia’s national laws would be strengthened to address the challenge of climate change and ensure we can mitigate, adapt to and be resilient in the face of a warming world.

Action on climate change, essential to protect biodiversity, is also vital to protect human health as a quarter of world disease has its root causes in environmental change, degradation and pollution.

The World Health Organisation regards climate change as the greatest health threat of the 21st century, a view recognised by the statements of the Australian Medical Association and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

Already, it is responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide, and that figure is projected to rise to 250,000 by 2030. In Australia, air quality reform could prevent an estimated 3,000 air pollution deaths per year.

Causes of current inaction

There are fundamentally two causes of inaction. First, in this increasingly
complex world, governments now more than ever need impartial advice based on the best available evidence. Yet all too often, such advice is politicised, ignored, or both.

Second, in leading democracies – particularly in Australia with its relatively short election cycles – the pressure to focus on re-election prospects dictates that governments emphasise jobs, growth, and living standards. It takes strong leadership to promote the interests of future generations as well as current ones.

It seems counterintuitive to suggest that for its survival, a government might need to delegate decisions for human survival to systems beyond its immediate political control. Yet it already does delegate crucial decisions, such as the monthly interest rate calls made by the Reserve Bank.

A newly created CEC and NEPA would be charged with safeguarding the climate, wildlife, fresh water and clean air. It would be in a position to improve air quality to standards recommended by the World Health Organization, protect water quality, and deliver effective climate change mitigation and adaptation policy uniformly in all states.




Read more:
Around the world, environmental laws are under attack in all sorts of ways


The success of such a national system would manifest itself in a growing number of decisions similar to the recent rejection of the expansion of Stage 3 of the Acland coal mine. The judge in that case turned it down on the basis of a range of health and environmental transgressions, yet it is currently more common for states to approve this type of developments rather than reject them.

The ConversationNationally enforceable standards for resource developments are likely to bring effective preventative health benefits, as well as certainty of process. These reforms present an overdue opportunity for Australia to offer leadership and catch up on lost time, to ameliorate the progression of climate change and biodiversity loss, and thus lessen their future impacts.

David Shearman, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In the absence of national leadership, cities are driving climate policy



File 20170718 21994 1gbk70x
The City of Sydney is aiming to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
HjalmarGerbig/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University

Imagine a future in which every one of Australia’s 537 local government areas, including all our capital cities and major regional centres, achieve net zero greenhouse emissions. It might sound like a pipe dream, but it could be closer than you think.

A new Climate Council report, released today, tracks the climate action being taken at the local government level. It gives myriad examples of cities, towns and local shires, in Australia and abroad, setting and achieving ambitious goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport.

In a 2016 Climate Institute survey of attitudes to climate change, 90% of respondents indicated that the federal government should shoulder the bulk of responsibility for action, with 67% saying Canberra should take a leading role. Yet given the current policy paralysis at Commonwealth level it is little wonder that some states seem determined to go it alone on setting ambitious clean energy targets.

Meanwhile, it’s at the local government level where enthusiastic action to embrace a more sustainable future is really taking off.

For some, the inspiration for action was a pledge by more than 1,000 mayors, local representatives and community leaders to move to 100% renewable energy. The promise was made on the sidelines of the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, at an event called the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

Since then, US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement seems simply to have strengthened this resolve. More than 350 US mayors responded to Trump’s decision by pledging to reach 100% renewable energy for their communities by 2035.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that transforming the way energy is used and generated in cities and towns worldwide has the potential to deliver 70% of the total emissions reductions needed to stay on track for the 2℃ global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement. The IEA has described cities as the key to decarbonisation.

The leaders of some of Australia’s own major cities are certainly no slouches when it comes to climate aspiration:

Ambitions are also high at regional and local council levels. One in five councils surveyed by Beyond Zero Emissions indicated they were aiming for “100% renewable energy” or “zero emissions”. Examples detailed in the Climate Council report include, among others:

  • Yackandandah, Vic: 100% renewable energy by 2022
  • Lismore, NSW: 100% renewable energy by 2023
  • Uralla, NSW: 100% renewable energy in 5-10 years
  • Newstead, Qld: 100% renewable energy by 2017
  • Darebin, Melbourne: zero net emissions by 2020.

Power to cities

To coincide with the report, the Climate Council is also today launching its Cities Power Partnership, a free nationwide program that aims to transform Australia’s energy future from the ground up.

Thirty-five councils, representing more than 3 million Australians (12% of the population), signed up to the program even before it was launched. To join, councils identify five items in the “Power Partners pledge” that they will strive to achieve. These items include increasing the proportion of renewable energy generated within the local area; improving energy efficiency; providing sustainable transport options; building community sustainability partnerships; and engaging in climate advocacy.

The new Cities Power Partnership.

Participants will then complete a six-monthly online survey on progress. In return, the Cities Power Partnership will provide incentives for councils to deliver on their selected targets and to work together to help each other. Members of the partnership will have access to a national knowledge hub and an online analytical tool to measure energy, cost and emissions savings of projects. They will also be buddied with other councils to share knowledge; receive visits from domestic and international experts; be connected to community energy groups; and be celebrated at events with other local leaders.

Ultimately, the CPP is designed to help local communities sidestep the political roadblocks at national level, and just get on with the job of implementing climate policies.

The ConversationThese may be only small projects when considered individually, but the idea is to link them into a network that, together, can make a big difference to one of our most significant challenges. After all, the only way to eat an elephant is to take one bite at a time.

Lesley Hughes, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why we need environmental accounts alongside national accounts


Michael Vardon, Australian National University and Peter Burnett, Australian National University

The Federal Budget has been delivered and Australians are headed for the polls. In this series, Reform Revisited, we ask writers for innovative ways to tackle our reform agenda.

Charles Dickens’ character Oliver Twist is perhaps best known as the boy who wanted more. Of course, he got none. Instead, his efforts prompted Mr Bumble, the parish beadle (official) to offer a princely £5 to anyone who would take the boy off his hands.

The environment is something of a modern Oliver Twist in the budget workhouse. There’s certainly no more porridge on offer – indeed significantly less counting the changes to renewable energy funding announced on 23 March. Last Tuesday’s federal budget contained no new policy and no new money, only some savings and the allocation of funds already set aside for environmental purposes. And, Mr Bumble-like, the Government remains committed to its “one-stop shop” policy of transferring environmental approval powers to “willing jurisdictions”, to use the terminology of the Department of Environment.

But how much budget porridge is needed for a hungry environment? And what does the environment do that deserves porridge anyway? The budget might at least be expected to consider the environment’s contribution to the economy (for example, through agriculture) if not in relation to the broader goal of maintaining the environment for its inherent value, as articulated by Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s budget media release.

The budget continues to support some worthy initiatives, such as the management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef through the Reef 2050 Plan. But, overall, we do not know if the budget funding will deliver the desired results across the environment, to maintain the functions that support our economy and lifestyle. Compare this the comprehensive information and accounting systems in place to measure the performance and contribution of different industries (agriculture, manufacturing, retail trade and education) in the economy.

The deficiency could be remedied by making better use of data – both scientific and economic. The economic part of the budget is well served with information and forecasts of economic conditions, but the environmental part is not, despite the increasing availability of environmental information, not only from established sources such as the five-yearly State of the Environment Report, rainfall and temperature outlooks from the Bureau of Meteorology, but from new sources, such as the recently released Australia’s Environment in 2015 which is the latest example of distilling the increasingly large amount information available from remote sensing technology.

None of this is factored into the Budget in the way that economic indicators such as unemployment or economic growth rates are, so the impacts and risks of the changing environment on the economy are ignored.

These days, the problem is more one of data organisation rather than data availability. The obscurely-titled System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) attempts to do for the environment what the System of National Accounts has done for the general economy: systematically and regularly present data in a way that reveals what is going on, and to some extent, why.

The ABS already uses SEEA to produce accounts, although these are as yet very basic. If Treasury used information from a comprehensive set of environmental accounts alongside its existing information in developing the Budget, the economic and environmental justifications for environmental spending would be much clearer. More fundamentally, we would have a much better sense of whether we were on the path to sustainability, and if not, where additional investment could have most impact.

Oliver Twist was of course fiction. But in penning his novel Dickens had a real-world target: the British Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which ushered in a primitive work-for-the-dole scheme in the form of parish workhouses. While the immediate problem in the story might have been Oliver’s empty bowl, the underlying problem in the real world was that with the industrial revolution, the parish system on which British society had operated for centuries was breaking down rapidly as rural workers migrated en masse to the newly-industrialised cities. Forcing the indigent into workhouses was a budget fix, when what was really needed was a new welfare system.

The approaches taken in managing Australia’s environment, including through the Budget, are as obsolete as the Poor Law was in Dickensian Britain. We don’t know how much environmental investment is needed, or where best to place it. But just as the Turnbull government has a 10-year economic plan for reducing company tax, and is making a 40-year investment in submarines, we need a long-term plan for environmental investment. Until we have a comprehensive set of environmental accounts linked to existing economic information, such a plan will lack foundation and our modern Oliver Twist will have no option beyond the poorhouse plea: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Read more in the series here.

The Conversation

Michael Vardon, Visiting Fellow at the Fenner School, Australian National University and Peter Burnett, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

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