It is a relief to see state-based climate plans beginning to solidify into real policy action – plans that actually shift the projections from higher emissions to lower emissions, while putting ‘guard rails’ around the growth of energy technologies.
The NSW plan, for instance, was presented very much in the terms of jobs, economic growth and regional benefits, rather than any moral plea for climate action, and as such, received widespread support from all corners of politics. This means it is very likely to come to fruition, and is also very likely to have a noticeable impact on emissions in the state, in addition to growing the clean energy sector, sharing benefits with regional Australia and expanding several key industries.
While all of Australia’s states may be on board with climate action, the way that climate action is designed and deployed is actually an area of distinction between the ideologies of different governments. In fact, the ‘style’ of climate action is set to be the key delineator into this coming decade. In contrast to NSW’ business and economy focused energy plans, Victoria has recently released a similarly hefty policy package that focuses very much on welfare, household bills, personal experience within homes and inequality embedded into energy in the state. It is the caring, justice-driven counterbalance to NSW’ big, sleek business plan.
“This pandemic has been hard enough without worrying about whether you can pay the power bill. Not only will we help cover that cost – we’ll help Victorians make their home more efficient and fight climate change”, said Victoria’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews presented these measures in a similar light, explaining how they’d specifically change the lived experience of energy and economics within the home:
Too many rentals are like ovens in summer and fridges in winter. And too many tenants are shelling out a fortune on bills because their heater is older than they are. That's why we're bringing in minimum standards for insulation, draught sealing and hot water systems. pic.twitter.com/VFSFhQj9Bq
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) November 16, 2020
RenewEconomy’s Sophie Vorrath has detailed the policy here, but important elements include access to energy efficiency rebates, old appliance upgrades targeted at low-income earners, upgrades in social housing and access to new solar installations. There is no mistaking the heart of Victoria’s direction with these policies, which focus on addressing areas in which some injustice has reduced access to climate and energy opportunities.
Renters, for instance, have often been locked into inefficient and potentially dangerous homes due to poor sealing, outdated appliances and highly polluting fossil gas being burned indoors. Those earning profit from housing stock and real estate companies have long been reticent to take action on this due to high demand for rental properties, and have taken little action on this. The new minimum standards work to specifically address that power imbalance.
Energy efficiency has struggled to garner the same level of policy and public attention as slightly shinier renewable and battery related energy programs, but the well of potential for energy efficiency around the world is extremely deep. The International Energy Agency’s ‘World Energy Outlook’ report, models that “Energy efficiency contributes one quarter of the cumulative emissions savings [in a net zero scenario, relative to baseline] over the period to 2050.
Recognised energy expert and RenewEconomy contributor Alan Pears wrote in The Conversation that “Both the Victorian government announcement, and progress at the COAG level, follow advocacy from social justice groups and Energy Consumers Australia (ECA) building on academic research”, and that “these groups have helped highlight how poor housing affects vulnerable people, causing high energy bills and health problems”.
What has played out over recent weeks among different big climate and energy policy at the state level in Australia highlights something important: there is still divergence among climate policy in Australia, but it is not between ‘doing nothing’ and ‘doing something’ – it is between how something is done. What is clear is that Victoria is linking climate and energy policy explicitly to the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic. As many millions of people have been forced to stay home – nowhere in Australia hit harder and more harrowingly than Victoria – people are now seeking much-needed relief from the pressures of full-time existence within those homes. Renters, those in social housing and those struggling to pay bills are those with the most to lose from inaction and the most to gain from policies like this.
While this package – said to be the biggest energy efficiency policy in Australian history – certainly addresses the unloved nature of this particular mode of climate action, it also highlights the power of climate policy that is designed through the lens of social justice. More details will need to come, but we know the heart of the state’s approach to decarbonisation, and it’s clear that this is very much what is needed right now in a region that is still hurting from the impacts of COVID19.