What Australian states can learn from Trump dismantling climate change policy



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President Trump is challenging the US states’ right to set their own emissions targets.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Sarah Graham, University of Sydney

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was greeted with dismay around the world. Less well known, but probably just as damaging to emissions reductions, was freezing standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars in July.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world


The erosion of US federal climate policy has made action from individual states far more important. As Australia grapples with yet another failure to implement a national emissions policy, what can we learn from America?

And is it time for Australian states to reach out directly to like-minded states in other parts of the world to tackle global climate issues?




Read more:
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Strong state action

From the outside, the US often looks like a bastion of climate change denial and very large cars, but a group of US states has nevertheless made some of the most dramatic progress in curbing emissions of any jurisdictions in the world.

Consider New Jersey. In 1998, while the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated (and ultimately rejected by George W. Bush), Governor Christine Whitman ordered that the state pursue an emissions target of 3.5% below 1990 levels by 2005.

Since then, New Jersey has consistently adopted emissions reduction targets in line with global agreements, effectively bypassing the weaker standards at the federal level. Several other, mostly Democrat, states across the nation took similar action during the Bush administration, placing caps on emissions from power generation, establishing internal carbon trading systems, and adopting ambitious state emissions targets.




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California’s regulation of air quality goes back even further. In response to Los Angeles’ smog problem – arising from a confluence of geographical conditions, warm weather, and high automobile use – Sacramento introduced smog restrictions on automobiles in 1960. This predated both the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and any meaningful federal effort to regulate air quality or car pollution. In 1970, when President Nixon established the EPA and Congress gave teeth to the Clean Air Act, California was granted special waivers to adopt stricter anti-smog measures. The state has done so ever since.

Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and as part of a much broader climate change initiative, reduction targets for CO₂ emissions from automobiles were added to the existing anti-smog rules. By this time, a number of states were also following California’s more stringent standards. These included states bordering California where auto dealers wished to sell California-compliant cars, but also East Coast progressive states pursuing ambitious climate change plans of their own.

Australian states

Australia is not in exactly the same position as the the US – for example, we are virtually unique in the developed world for having no fuel efficiency standards for cars – but there are some striking similarities.




Read more:
Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets


The policy deadlock at the federal level has made action from states, and even local councils, vitally important.

At the same time as the federal government is struggling to put emissions reduction on the national agenda, Victoria has made a huge commitment to rooftop solar. South Australia, which leads the country in renewable energy generation, is now a net energy exporter for the first time.

While the Queensland state government grapples over the Adani coal mine, a May report found that billions of dollars in renewable energy projects are underway.

The Trump effect

The Trump administration is widely expected to repeal many Obama-era limits on pollution. Auto emissions standards came onto the chopping-block in July, when the administration unveiled its plan to “Make Cars Great Again” by freezing fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon.

The EPA has also announced that it will revoke California’s waiver to set more stringent standards, which 13 other states including New York now also follow.

In both cases, the Trump administration is seeking not just to relax federal climate standards, but to prevent states from setting more stringent policies should they wish to. And in both cases, these matters will be settled by the courts.

California announced it would lead a legal challenge to protect the waiver on the same day as the administration announced it would revoke it. When the EPA moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the same set of states will likely sue to protect it.

Why this matters globally

These legal fights have global ramifications. The 13 states that follow California’s waiver have a population of 130 million. These states have pledged, through auto emissions standards and clean energy targets, to meet the Paris Climate goals – using their own policy autonomy to circumvent Trump’s withdrawal.

These states have also pledged to pursue independent diplomacy with other national and sub-national jurisdictions around the world, sharing best practise and pursuing climate cooperation.

The EPA has so far lost a number of legal challenges, and is by no means guaranteed to win its case against California. Should these states prevail, Australia has an opportunity to pursue meaningful climate diplomacy directly with the American states.




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A 130 million-person market for sustainable technologies also presents a substantial opportunity for Australian businesses in the renewables sector.

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The Conversation

American states have a framework in place for international partnerships on climate. State governors and city mayors across the country are eager to brand themselves as international climate change leaders. As Australian federal politics grinds through another round of energy policy and climate change debate, it might be time for Australian states to look outside our borders for inspiration and co-operation.

Sarah Graham, Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

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

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While nations play politics, cities and states are taking up the climate challenge


Michael Mintrom, Monash University

Last week, Donald Trump entered the White House Rose Garden and announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In doing so, he fulfilled his campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris deal, a move that calls into question the future of the entire agreement.

In withdrawing, Trump cited the (arguably short-term) sacrifice the agreement requires of the US. This perspective fulfils the famous prediction made by economist Garrett Hardin in the 1960s: the “tragedy of the commons”. Hardin wrote that self-interest drives individuals to exploit collective resources in the short term, even to their long-term detriment.

Hardin and those following him thought the only way to avoid this tragedy was by securing collective agreements. That is why so many people view the Paris Accord as a vital mechanism for addressing climate change. It is also why the US withdrawal is devastating.

But another famous economist, Elinor Ostrom, saw things differently. Writing after the demise of the Kyoto Agreement but before the Paris Accord, Ostrom said that faith in multinational accords to address climate change was misplaced. Ostrom saw the limits of such collective action. Crucially, Ostrom suggested that we should also recognise the potential of localised collective action.

And already there are examples in both the developed and developing world that this is happening right now.

The new global leadership

Ultimately, efforts to reduce global warming are advanced by the pedestrian, daily choices of households, businesses, and sub-national governments. Millions of local choices can have global effects, for good or ill.

It’s clear that Trump is stepping away from global leadership on climate change. But in response, the state governors of Washington, New York and California declared they remain committed to the Paris climate targets. Since then, a further 10 US states have joined the budding Climate Alliance.

In the past two decades, mounting evidence has shown the power of such efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These efforts have been driven by policy entrepreneurs – people with vision, energy, and the collaborative instincts required to promote collective action. A classic example is provided by the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in 2005 invited mayors from other mega-cities to join him in promoting climate change efforts. That initiative has spurred many more, with transformative effects.

Looking around the world, we can see the diversity of localised initiatives in place to address climate change.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, traffic congestion and pollution are being addressed by providing better public transport options and more bicycle lanes.

In Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transport Project aims to reduce significantly the greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

In India, Kolkata has implemented the Solid Waste Management Improvement Project, which is reducing the release of methane emissions, while contributing to improved public sanitation.

Across Europe, cities have started emulating meat-free Thursdays, which originated in Ghent, Belgium. Aside from other benefits, reducing meat consumption can reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

In the US, leaders in cities and states have done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by cars and coal-fired power plants, for example through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Globally, the Carbon Disclosure Project has significantly influenced actions of businesses and governments alike.

Particularly important for smaller developing countries is the Cartegena Dialogue. It creates opportunities for leaders to share strategies for mitigating climate change and – just as urgently, especially for small Pacific nations – adapting to it.

The Paris Accord is a landmark, multilateral initiative. The withdrawal of the US is appalling, and deserves a strong rebuke. But it does not foreshadow the unravelling of multilateral resolve for addressing climate change.

The ConversationThe backslappers in Washington have had their Rose Garden moment. Elsewhere, energetic policy entrepreneurs are mobilising. Grounded in their communities, they are acting to protect the planet for today’s young people, and for those not yet born. That too, is global leadership.

Michael Mintrom, Professor of Public Sector Management, Monash University

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

What role for the states on climate and energy policy? NSW enters the fray


Anna Bruce, UNSW Australia; Graham Mills, UNSW Australia, and Iain MacGill, UNSW Australia

We’re currently having a national conversation about climate and energy, with reviews of climate policy and the National Electricity Market underway. Up for debate is how the states and federal government will share these responsibilities.

Following the recent statewide blackout in South Australia, the federal government pointed the finger at Labor states’ “aggressive”, “unrealistic” and “ideological” renewable energy targets.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews returned: “Rather than peddle mistruths, Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce should start providing some national leadership and focus on developing a renewable vision beyond 2020.”

It might seem to be yet another partisan, ideological stoush between a Liberal federal government and three Labor state governments.

However, the Liberal-led New South Wales government has now also entered the fray, with a 2050 emissions target that will almost certainly require complete decarbonisation of the electricity sector within the next 25 years.

And to achieve this, renewables will have a key, many would argue overwhelming, role to play.

What are the states already doing?

NSW released its climate policy framework in November, joining Victoria, South Australia and the ACT with an aspirational target to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

While NSW didn’t announce a renewable target, the majority of states now have one. Queensland is seeking 50% renewable generation by 2030, Victoria 40% by 2025 and South Australia 50% by 2025.

Tasmania’s generation is already mostly renewable (albeit mostly conventional hydro generation). The Australian Capital Territory looks set to achieve 100% renewables by 2020 and the Northern Territory has announced a 50% target for 2030.

At present, the federal government has a renewable energy target of around 23.5% renewable electricity by 2020 and a 2030 target of 26-28% greenhouse emission reductions from 2005 levels. These ambitions fall way below those of the states.

And way below the almost complete electricity sector decarbonisation by 2040 that the International Energy Agency says is required globally to avoid dangerous global warming.

What does the law say?

Constitutionally, energy policy in Australia is a matter for state governments. The development and implementation of the National Electricity Market over the past two decades has been achieved through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), with harmonised legislation in each state.

State governments therefore have the constitutional scope to act both independently and in consort to achieve clean energy related goals.

Whether they should choose to do this, however, is another question. There is an obvious national context including Australia’s participation in international climate change processes such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

National policy coherence also has value in avoiding uncoordinated policies that can adversely impact investment incentives, increase compliance costs, and generally lead to less efficient outcomes.

While suitably ambitious, nationally consistent, legislation under federal government leadership may be ideal, it hardly seems realistic at present. The apparent divisions within the federal government seem likely to prevent useful progress, even with the two reviews.

It might well be a choice between state leadership or very little leadership over the next few years. And these years will be key to setting Australia on a clean energy path fit for the future.

New South Wales’ climate plan

The NSW climate change policy framework proposes to meet the net zero target through a number of policy “directions” to reduce emissions. It also proposes adaptation measures to cope with the warming that is already underway.

The emission reduction directions include: enhancing investment certainty for renewables; boosting energy productivity (energy efficiency); capturing other benefits of reducing emissions (such as improved health from reduced air pollution) and managing the risks; and growing new industries in NSW.

These are to be advanced through government policy, government operations, and advocacy. Specific initiatives are to be outlined in a set of action plans, including a climate change fund and an energy efficiency plan, which are currently under consultation.

A further advanced energy plan will be developed in 2017. This will include provisions for the future role of renewable energy. Clearly the government will not be able to achieve its aspirational emissions target in the absence of a transformation of the energy system, so how will renewable energy figure in the absence of a state target?

While we can’t preempt the plan, the policy framework defines advanced energy to not only cover renewable generation itself but also how it is integrated into industry structures and adopted by end users.

Given the importance of integration in transitioning the energy system, such a broad focus could usefully complement the activities of other states as well as NSW.

The policy also emphasises collaborating with the commonwealth and other states through COAG.

NSW: a climate advocate?

Combined state action has historically played a key role in federal climate policy. It was bottom up pressure from states that resulted in the Howard government’s initial emissions trading scheme (ETS) proposal in 2007.

The Garnaut review that formed the basis of Kevin Rudd’s ETS was originally commissioned by Labor state governments.

On this point SA Premier Jay Wetherill has taken the lead in calling for a national emissions trading scheme to be implemented through harmonised legislation at a state level.

While this seems unlikely to be a feature of NSW’s advocacy in 2017, continued failure by the federal government to advance climate and energy policy might require such types of coordinated state efforts.

In this light, state government efforts do not appear “ideological”. That would seem to better describe the federal government’s present opposition to even exploring promising emission reduction options.

And while it is too soon to know if NSW’s climate policy is fit for the future, it certainly represents welcome progress, and provides a basis that can be built upon.

The Conversation

Anna Bruce, Lecturer in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, UNSW Australia; Graham Mills, , UNSW Australia, and Iain MacGill, Co-director, Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets, UNSW Australia

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