The Victorian government has delayed for a second time its decision on setting crucial and long-awaited interim emissions reduction targets for the state, citing its current focus on curbing the spread and human cost of the Coronavirus.
The Andrews Labor government was due to table its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for 2025 and 2030 – and in keeping with its net-zero target for 2050 – next week, ahead of a Thursday August 6 deadline.
The new deadline, allowing a period of 31 Parliamentary sitting days, was extended after the government missed its original March 31 deadline, just as the first wave of Covid-19 infections started to hit around Australia.
In an emailed statement to RenewEconomy on Friday, state energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government would continue to monitor the impacts of Covid-19 over coming months and announce the targets when there was greater certainty for this sort of decision making.
“Setting interim targets in the current environment is very difficult – given the significant impacts of Coronavirus on how industry and the economy operate, how we move around our city and how households use energy,” D’Ambrosio said.
“The government continues to look for opportunities to accelerate investment in renewable energy, cut carbon emissions and create jobs as a part of the government’s work to get the economy back on track.
“We have the strongest climate change legislation in the country and remain on track to meet our target of net-zero emissions by 2050,” she said.
Friends of the Earth Melbourne – which has been campaigning since 2017 for the state to set science-based interim targets – said on Friday that it was disappointed by the latest delay, but not completely surprised by it, given the circumstances.
“Despite our deep disappointment about the delay, we believe it is essential that the Victorian government makes the right decision, not a rushed decision on climate targets,” the group said in a statement.
“We understand that the Andrews government has been entirely focused on leading Victoria through a one-in-one-hundred year pandemic. Covid-19 threatens the lives and livelihoods of Victorians and has already, tragically, cost the lives of over 100 people.”
But the group said it would maintain its “marathon,” grass-roots effort at pushing for the targets, that would contribute towards the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.
“It is an outcome that would accelerate the rollout of renewables, increase investment in sustainable transport, require greater protection of forests and the natural world, and help protect communities from intensifying impacts,” FoE Melbourne said.
Environment Victoria, however, was slightly less forgiving of the new delay, describing it as “doubly disappointing.”
“We agree the government’s focus must be on protecting public health right now, but that does not diminish the urgency of the climate crisis,” said EV campaigns manager, Nicholas Aberle on Friday.
“Every day of delay simply adds to the cost of making the inevitable transition to a zero-carbon economy. Every day of delay is another day Victoria has no plan for bringing climate pollution down at the rate we need to keep Victorians safe from bushfires, heatwaves and more and more record-breaking extreme events into the future,” Aberle said.
“Getting this right means setting 2030 targets in line with our share of keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees – at least 65 – 80% emissions reductions across Victoria’s electricity generation, transport, agriculture, waste and land-use sectors.
“The sooner this happens, the better for our economy and the better for our climate.”
While Victoria’s Labor government has an impressive record on support for large-scale renewable energy development as well as for household solar and batteries, it was criticised in March for using misleading data and emissions figures as justification for ending the state’s moratorium on gas exploration.
In lifting the ban on onshore conventional gas exploration, the Andrews government said at the time that it could create as many as 6,400 new jobs across regional Victoria – a figure that thinktank The Australia Institute claimed was overblown by a factor of more than 100.
TAI also questioned the environmental benefits of a gas industry expansion in the state, pointing out that research prepared for the state government only looked at increases in fugitive emissions, while ignoring emissions released through increased gas use.