Victoria wants to lead on climate with zero emissions commitment

Victoria’s net zero target by 2050 will be enshrined in legislation while climate change will be made a mandatory component of government decision-making, in order to work to Australia’s Paris Agreement pledge of keeping warming well below 2°C.

Victoria says it will “lead the nation” on climate change, announcing a goal to become net zero by 2050, in good news for the built environment, but also putting it in direct competition with neighbouring South Australia and the ACT.

The move was supported by the Energy Efficiency Council, environment groups and the Property Council, which called for bipartisan commitment to “this important goal”.

The net zero target for Victoria will be enshrined in legislation while climate change will be made a mandatory component of government decision-making, in order to work to Australia’s Paris Agreement pledge of keeping warming well below 2°C. No state-wide emissions trading scheme or carbon tax will be considered.

“Updating our laws and introducing a target to reduce emissions in Victoria will ensure we take advantage of the new jobs and economic opportunities created by renewable energy,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The net-zero target was a key outcome of the Independent Review of the Climate Change Act 2010, conducted by ClimateWorks’ Anna Skarbek, Baker & McKenzie’s Martijn Wilder and Sydney Law School’s Professor Rosemary Lyster.

In its response to the review, released today (Thursday), the government gave in-principle support to 32 of the 33 recommendations. The only suggestion it did not take on board was for a merits review to be available for decisions made on climate change, saying scrutiny of decisions could happen in less administratively burdensome ways.

Updating our laws and introducing a target to reduce emissions in Victoria will ensure we take advantage of the new jobs and economic opportunities created by renewable energy.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Victoria

Major recommendations it supported, or supported in principle, were:

  • A long-term emissions reduction target with five-yearly interim targets and strategies
  • Consideration of climate change being embedded into government policies, programs and decisions through legislation
  • Legislative review of the Climate Change Act
  • Increasing the number of acts that require an assessment of climate change impacts or risks
  • Considering broadening standing for judicial review of decisions
  • Strengthening and improving the way the planning and building system supports Victoria’s resilience to climate change and emissions reductions
  • Embedding adaptation and disaster risk reduction in its strategy
  • Having government departments and local governments make emissions reduction pledges, which include the development of a Low Carbon Growth Plan
  • Considering boosting the Environment Protection Authority’s powers to regulate emissions reduction for certain facilities
  • Increasing access to public land for carbon sequestration

One of the recommendations relating to emissions reductions pledges by government departments could signal room to bring back the Greener Government Buildings Program, a long hoped for development in the energy efficiency industry in Victoria.

Another, relating to buildings, is all round good news for the sustainable built environment sector.

Minister for energy, environment and climate change Lily D’ambrosio said the moves would create certainty, clarifying what alignment with the Paris Agreement would mean in practice for businesses and the wider community.

“Our commitment to restoring the Climate Change Act builds on Victoria’s growing reputation as a leader in the global shift towards renewable and clean energy technologies, and will attract the investment, industries and jobs that underpin our future prosperity,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

The government was also strong on the job-creation front, in expectation of push-back from conservatives. It says there will be up to 4000 jobs by 2025 in renewables and another 2000 in energy efficiency projects to 2030.

Brown coal the elephant in the room

The task is a hard one, though, with Victoria reliant on some of the most polluting brown coal fired power stations in the world. Emissions from electricity are hence the most polluting in the country.

The government says it is giving “consideration” to reducing its reliance on brown coal, through a coal review and the development of a Victorian Renewable Energy Target, neither of which have been finalised.

Environment Victoria welcomed the plan but urged commitment to the phase-out of brown coal fired plants.

“Setting a clear target for reaching zero climate pollution provides a strong signal for all future government and business decisions,” EV chief executive Mark Wakeham said. “We need to reach this target as quickly as possible.”

He said pursuing any coal or gas projects would be inconsistent with the announced plans and called for a clear plan for the economic transition.

“We expect to see the EPA given clear powers to regulate carbon dioxide, a timeline for phasing out our oldest and dirtiest coal power stations, and ambitious plans to boost renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Energy efficiency

The government has also created a Take-2 website where residents, businesses and local governments can voluntarily pledge to help with the transition to net zero between 2017 and 2020. It is understood government departments will have to make mandatory pledges for carbon reduction.

The aggregate of pledges will inform the first interim emissions target.

The Energy Efficiency Council’s chief executive Luke Menzel welcomed the news of the emissions reduction target, and called for energy efficiency to be central.

“Energy efficiency is where you start when you’re reducing your emissions,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“It’s the classic least cost measure.”

He said the pledge program was still “very high-level”, and expected to see more detail come through on how it will function, particularly for government departments.

The EEC is pushing for the reinstatement of the Greener Government Buildings Program, which helped reduce government emissions through building upgrades.

“Restarting the Greener Government Buildings Program is a critical next step if the government is serious about implementing carbon reduction.”

The EEC has come on board as a founding partner of the Take-2 program, along with AI Group, the Green Building Council of Australia and the Future Business Council, among others.

Aligning of energy and climate

Mr Menzel also praised moving the energy portfolio together with environment and climate change.

Ms D’Ambrosio recently picked up the environment and climate change portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Menzel said it would make the lines of responsibility “a lot more straightforward”.

“From a machinery of government perspective it’s a great outcome.”

Here, Ms D’Ambrosio would have the support of organisations like Sustainability Victoria, which was very good at operationalising energy and climate programs.

The Property Council

The Property Council of Victoria also welcomed the announcement, with acting executive director Asher Judah saying, “We support an approach which is steady, sensible and considered. The built environment accounts for 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, so the property industry will play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

He pointed to commitment by the property industry and “major gains in emissions reduction for a number of years and we want to partner with government in building on our strong record”.

He also called for bipartisan support for “this important goal”.

“We don’t want chopping and changing, one-upmanship and accompanying scares. If we are to make consistent improvements in Victoria it will require steady and consistent leadership.

“Public reporting against targets must be an integral part of this long-term path. There must be ongoing accountability.”

Challenge to South Australia and ACT

The move is a challenge to South Australia and the ACT, widely seen as leaders in the renewables space.

South Australia too has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, though has a much higher level of renewables penetration to help it in its quest. It has also committed to making Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city, which comes with a range of incentives for the uptake of household and commercial renewables.

The ACT has the same aim to become carbon neutral by 2050, with a 100 per cent renewable goal by 2020, that comes with a range of energy efficiency programs.

States such as NSW are now seen to be lagging, with no clear strategies regarding how to meet Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments.

This story was published with permission from The Fifth Estate.

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