Climate | Environment | Emissions Reduction // Government | Regulation

At last, a mature climate change debate

“South Australia is demonstrating to the other states that you can take action on climate change and still enjoy economic growth,” South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill told a CEDA forum on climate change ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015.

“In 2007, we were the first Australian state to legislate for a reduction in emissions. The results are striking and tangible. Today, South Australia’s emissions are nine per cent lower than the Kyoto Protocol’s 1990 baseline levels, while since 1990 our gross state product has increased by more than 60 per cent,” he said, effectively decoupling carbon emissions and economic growth.

“In 2002 we had no wind generation. Today, renewables contribute 39 per cent of South Australia’s electricity generation; our wind generation levels are the second-highest in the world; we have Australia’s highest per capita solar generation; and we lead the nation in rooftop photovoltaic uptake with one in four households,” he said.

“The debate is maturing and the worldwide momentum for action is real – there is now a groundswell of belief that tackling climate change is not just a cost, but an opportunity … to create new technologies, new industries and new jobs.”

Researcher and policy consultant at the London School of Economics, Fergus Green agreed that the international debate had matured into a focus on the opportunities.

“Once you really grasp the benefits of action, you can have a mature economic discussion and put together smarter packages of policies that not only reduce the costs but maximise the benefits,” he said.

“The power of example is globally valuable – nobody has ever decarbonised an economy before so nations, cities, companies are all learning from each other.

“Everyone else will be looking to the leaders – we can be one of them and export our knowledge to the rest of the world,” he said.

DeGaris Consulting Policy Analyst and Research Advisor, Ros DeGaris said that several local industries were already world leaders making huge impacts, at a price.

“Strategies to reduce carbon emissions and energy intensity are always on the cards but people need to realise the size of the long-term capital investment needed to slot these strategies into place.”

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff Associate Director of Sustainability, Richard Palmer said the biggest change in the last 18 months has been in private capital.

“In the property sector, for example, when the huge superannuation and investment funds in Europe and elsewhere start attaching low carbon metrics to their investments, it is a huge change,” he said.

“Once these were fringe conversations, but now contracting and procurement negotiations all incorporate sustainability measures.

“The recent issues with the Carmichael mine were with its bankability. Once you can’t get the funding, everything will change.”

Mr Weatherill said South Australia was determined to send a powerful message to the world about its commitment to climate change.

“We plan to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city, where electric and hybrid vehicles will be the preferred transport mode in the CBD,” he said.

“We’ve recently enacted new legislation to reduce the regulatory burden on renewable energy projects, providing greater certainty for investors and spreading the benefits to local communities – 95 per cent of licence payments will go to pastoral leases and native title holders.

“And we are working with Flinders University on the Tonsley Innovation Precinct where investors can commercialise new innovations such as those in clean technologies and renewable energy.

“We’ll be going to Paris and inviting companies everywhere to come here and be part of the experiment to decarbonise our economy.”