The clean-energy transition is one of the biggest challenges facing us today, but we need to move past the singular goal of “net zero” and take a systems approach if we are to succeed without compromising biodiversity and equity.
A systems approach requires us to have a wider lens on the interconnectedness of our systems and act accordingly. For the clean-energy transition, at a minimum, that means recognising biodiversity is just as important to our climate as reducing emissions, and reducing emissions won’t be achieved without addressing inequity in our current systems.
Recently there has been much discussion about the need for new technology and infrastructure – essential pieces of the transition puzzle. But we also need stronger efforts to improve existing systems. Energy efficiency is a good example.
Research shows Australian homes account for one-fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with heating and cooling using 40 per cent of that energy. Social housing is among the least energy efficient. As well as hindering efforts to decarbonise, “energy poverty” has health and wellbeing implications.
If we could help lower-income households reduce emissions by 20 per cent through energy-efficiency improvements, we could make inroads to greenhouse gas targets while delivering back to these households an average of $5000 per year and increasing availability of heating and cooling to the most vulnerable members of society.
The latest Federal Budget has allocated $300 million to improving 14 per cent of public housing, but we’ll need to push far harder on that lever to achieve the ambitious targets important for our collective future.
A widespread retrofit or rebuild program could also make a significant contribution to a just clean-energy transition. The National Low-income Energy Productivity Program proposed by ACOSS and 50 partners offers the opportunity for a thriving retrofitting industry delivering an estimated 22,000 FTE jobs that would contribute to local economic development for the coming decades.
Transitioning to solar power reduces emissions and household energy costs. But while we’re heading towards one-third of owner-occupied homes with solar, only four per cent of rentals have panels installed. Many lower-income households rent. Landlords don’t have any incentive to invest, and there are significant barriers for low-income households to access the technology. We can see how interconnected these issues are.
So while new technology and infrastructure are important and there are some excellent initiatives around, we won’t hit our targets without addressing broader systemic challenges and recognising how they are interconnected. We also risk entrenching disadvantage in any new systems that emerge through the transition.
Make no mistake, pursuing systems innovation is messy and difficult. It takes time. This is precisely why we must shift the way we act now.
We recently explored the conditions that enable people to organise and act towards genuine transformation. The joint exploration highlighted common attributes of systems initiatives that we need to see in the clean energy space.
There is so much opportunity in this space. Let’s reimagine what we’re able to achieve by broadening our lens.