The Australian Capital Territory has accelerated its zero emissions target, even as the federal government that gathers within the boundaries of the nation’s capital seems intent on putting a go-slow on climate action.
The new target – which now aims for the ACT to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, instead of 2050 – has been announced by Shane Rattenbury, the minister for climate change and sustainability in the Labor-Greens territory government.
Rattenbury has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to other states and the federal government to also increase their efforts, just as Canberra seeks to lock the country into modest efforts over the next 10 years.
“Canberra is again showing other cities around the world how climate action can be realised,” Rattenbury said. “We are living proof of what is possible when you get on with it.”
The ACT already expects to source the equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity needs by 2020 – itself an accelerated target – and is now embarking on comprehensive plan for electric vehicles, and also gas-free housing divisions.
The new target was proposed following consultation with the ACT’s climate change council, and in light of technology developments – the falling cost of renewables but also the advent of electric vehicles.
The ACT is also looking to lock in interim targets that include:
- its current target of 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 (which it is on track to achieve)
- 50-60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025
- 65-75 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030
- 90-95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2040
- net zero emissions by 2045 (previously 2050).
“The ACT is committed to tackling climate change by delivering ambitious clean energy and zero net emission targets,” Rattenbury said in a statement.
“Our new target of achieving zero net emissions by 2045 will lead the nation, and stands among the most world’s most progressive jurisdictions in our commitment to delivering real climate action.”
ACT in 2016/17 only emitted 3.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, a fraction of the nation’s estimated emissions of 533 million tonnes.
But the new targets mean that the battle between the ACT and the federal government over the structure and intent of the proposed National Energy Guarantee will intensify ahead of the next COAG energy minister’s meeting in August.
By then, the Energy Security Board will have finalised its draft rules for the NEG and the policy will be put to the vote of state ministers.
While the actual mechanism has been vastly improved since it was first unveiled in a hurry last October, the level of ambition within the target, the ability to change those targets, and the status of territory- and state-based targets will be a major stumbling block.
The ACT, along with Victoria and Queensland, want their own renewables and emissions targets to be “additional” to the weak national target, which currently only aims for a 26 per cent cut in emissions in the electricity sector by 2030.
Most independent analysts say that national emissions target will likely be met, or nearly met, by 2020, as a result of the federal renewable energy target, and state- and territory-based initiatives.
That leaves no emissions incentive for any new build in renewables over the decade from 2020.
Australia used to have a long-term emissions reduction target – an 80 per cent cut by 2050 – but that was dumped by the Abbott government when it scrapped the carbon price, and then sought to cancel the renewable energy target.
Interestingly, the Australian Energy Market Operator is modelling two long-term scenarios – a 70 per cent emissions cut and a 90 per cent cut by 2050 – as part of its work on a new Integrated System Plan that will help ensure the infrastructure is in place for a clean energy transition.
Rattenbury says the ACT’s interim targets are being set to send a clear signal to industry and business “so they can plan their investments accordingly and capitalise on the opportunities that being a leader and early adopter provides.”
Before it launched its 100 per cent renewables program, electricity and gas accounted for 65 per cent of the ACT’s emissions.
Post 2020, once the 100 per cent renewables target is met, about 60 per cent of its emissions will from transport and 21 per cent from gas usage.
The ACT has already announced plans to phase in buying of EVs for all government fleets over the next few years, along with incentives and new requirements for property owners, and has plans for gas-free fully electric suburbs.
Longer term, meeting the zero emissions target will mean the electrification of its entire transport fleet, public and private, and improved public transport. Hydrogen may also play a role, in transport and in storage.
Is the ACT about to follow the lead of cities like Paris and London and announce the ban of sales of new petrol and diesel cars?
Not yet, says Rattenbury, there are not enough EV options available. But it may come to pass some time in the future.
The new target puts Rattenbury on a collision course with the federal government over the NEG and the scale of ambition on emissions reductions, or the lack of it.
“This underlines our view that the NEG is not strong enough,” Rattenbury told RenewEconomy. “Under the NEG (and current targets) we will not achieve our Paris commitment.
“If we only take 26 per cent out of the electricity sector (as the government proposes to do), there is no way we will get (sufficient reductions) out of the other sectors.”
He says that the new targets will ensure the ACT plays its part in keeping global warming to below 2°C.
“Climate change brings risks that will impact every aspect of our society. Scientific evidence tells us there is an urgent need for action on part of our communities, and our Governments, to get the job done.
“Canberra is again showing other cities around the world how climate action can be realised.”