Victoria will go to the polls in less than three months. The outcome of the 2018 state election will have big implications for tackling climate change and rolling out renewable energy.
Given that pundits are saying it will be a “knife edge” election, every vote matters. And the policies Labor and the Coalition take to the election on climate change could decide who forms government.
Will Premier Daniel Andrews and Labor seize the initiative and bring an ambitious package of commitments to its election platform? Will Matthew Guy and the Liberal National Party protect a point of vulnerability with voters by modernising their stance on climate change and energy?
Here’s why it’s smart politics to get climate savvy.
With the Federal government’s failure to tackle climate change obvious to all and leaving Victorian communities exposed to climate change impacts, people are looking to states and territories for leadership. The collapse of the Federal Coalitions’ ‘National Energy Guarantee’ and recent leadership spill reinforces this need.
Victoria, Australia’s most progressive state, is ready for climate action. Polling commissioned by Sustainability Victoriashowsthat:
- 91 percent of Victorians accept some level of human causality for climate change
- 30 percent rate climate change in the top three issues facing the state
- 78 percent think climate change is an issue that requires urgent action now
- 84 percent support state Renewable Energy Targets
- 9 in 10 Victorians believe the state government should be taking action on climate change
- 8 in 10 want to live in a state that is leading on climate change
So, how do the government and opposition fare when it comes to climate change policy?
The Andrews Labor government developed sound climate credentials over the first three years of its term, with 2017 standing out as a year of delivery.
In January 2017, Labor successfully strengthened the Victorian Climate Change Act, locking in a target of zero-net emissions by 2050; a clear process for setting interim targets; and kicking off state adaptation planning, among other measures.
Victoria became the first jurisdiction to legislate a permanent ban on fracking and unconventional gasfields in August that year and extended the moratorium on onshore gas exploration. And in October, Victorian Renewable Energy Targets of 25 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2025 were enshrined in legislation.
Yet decisions from Labor in the first half of 2018 dampened the government’s record on climate change. The announcement of interim Emissions Reduction Targets was deferred; licences for brown coal mines and power plants have been extended; the southwest coast has been opened up to offshore gas exploration; and the state budget failed to invest in climate change action.
The government is pursuing carbon capture projects in Gippsland; a coal to hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley; and supporting a floating LNG facility in Westernport Bay.
Matthew Guy and the Victorian opposition fare much worse on this front. The party has pledged to scrap the popular Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) if elected; signalled support for coal power generation; and has failed to release a climate policy.
While it remains to be seen whether the Matthew Guy opposition will release positive climate and renewable energy policies, the recent announcement from the Andrews government to rollout solar on 650,000 homes is a sign Labor is willing to fight for voters who want climate action.
Here are a few big picture ideas Victoria’s political parties can adopt to tackle climate change and capture the public’s imagination.
Establishing a Victorian Climate Change Action Fund
There’s no shortage of bright ideas when it comes to reining in emissions and dealing with climate impacts. There isa shortage of funding available to support them. And it’s why a Victorian Climate Change Action Fund is needed.
The Labor government established a $4.3 million Victorian Climate Change Innovation Partnerships (VCCIP) Grant scheme to fill this gap, yet demand dramatically outstripped what was available. Just 24 of 240 projects received support.
communities, local governments, and others are missing out on start-up funding. A $100 million Victorian Climate Change Action Fund would provide the capital and framework for strategic investment in innovative climate projects.
Tackle Transport Sector Emissions by Committing to Melbourne Metro 2
The transport sector is the second largest and fastest growing source of emissions. If Victoria is going to meet its legislated target of zero-net emissions by 2050 then it will have to get serious about tackling car dependency.
The Melbourne Metro Project now under construction is a serious attempt by the government to bring new capacity to the rail network.
With Melbourne’s population expected to reach 8 million by 2040, and the long lead times involved in infrastructure projects of this scale, it’s essential for the state government to commit funds to the follow up—whether it’s Melbourne Metro 2 or the Suburban Rail Link Labor announced today.
Repower Melbourne’s Train Network with Renewable Energy
In a few months time, Melbourne’s tram network—the world’s largest—will be powered by solar farms in the state’s north. It is another important step to rein in emissions from the transport sector. But why stop there?
Melbourne’s train network is the second largest energy user in the state. Its footprint is growing as more train stations and services are added to the network.
Victoria can make further inroads towards its emissions targets with a commitment to repower the train system with renewables (and storage). In what would be an Australian first, every commute and every railway station would be a reminder that renewables are up to the task of powering a modern economy.
Which party will fight for the votes of climate-concerned citizens and gain an edge on polling day? We’ll soon find out.
Leigh Ewbank is Friends of the Earth’s Act on Climate coordinator. He coordinated the Yes 2 Renewables campaign for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target between 2012 and 2016