Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday announced it was scrapping the former Brumby government’s climate change target of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. And he’s not the only premier dismantling climate change programs.
New Queensland premier Campbell Newman is busy cutting eight green energy schemes, including: the $430 million Queensland Climate Change Fund, the $50 million Renewable Energy Fund, the $50 million Smart Energy Savings Program and The Future Growth Fund, which last year spent $405 million on clean-coal technology, climate change programs and transport and water infrastructure.
Both state governments claim the federal government’s carbon price scheme makes these additional targets and schemes redundant. But how well does this claim stand up?
According to the experts Crikey spoke with, it’s a fair claim. To a point.
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“If you have state and territory targets for emissions, which are effectively translated as caps on emissions, then all you’re doing is just redistributing emissions in Australia,” Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy, told Crikey.
Australia has a national cap on emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and a carbon pollution cap on emissions under the carbon pricing scheme.
“It depends on what the abatement curves are, but you could just be simply increasing the cost of achieving the national target,” said Macintosh. “And you’re certainly not going to achieve an increase in abatement, because you’re all under the [national] cap, so you’re just shuffling the deck chairs.”
That’s exactly what the Victorian Review of Climate Change Act 2010 found. Released yesterday, the independent review was compulsory after the introduction of a federal scheme, and found “no compelling case” to maintain the 20% emissions cut goal:
“This judgement is based on evidence that a State based target would not drive any additional national abatement in sectors of Victoria’s economy already covered by the carbon price — notably energy and industry. In fact, a State-based target would distort the national scheme, which is considered the most efficient means of reducing emissions. Victoria would effectively cross-subsidise emissions abatement in other states at additional cost to Victorians: local emission reductions would reduce the incentives for other jurisdictions to undertake their own abatement.”
Only the South Australian and ACT governments now maintain specific targets for cutting carbon emissions, but “a lot of it is decorative to send a message rather than achieve concrete outcomes”, Macintosh told Crikey.
For Baillieu, the news of scrapping the emissions aim comes as his government opens up brown coal allocations, receives criticism for cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park and breaks its election promise to place limits on emissions of new coal-fired power plants.
But Rod Keenan, a professor in climate change mitigation and adaptation at Melbourne University, agrees the Victorian emissions target is redundant, telling Crikey “the important thing is a consistent national policy framework”.
Doubling up on state and federal government policy in regards to cutting emissions is inefficient. “In effect what the states are saying that they’ve accepted the national target,” said Keenan. “The judgements then for the individual state governments [are about] how they think they can contribute to this policy objective.”
A Grattan Institute report last year found that many of the smaller programs to reduce emissions that have cost Australia governments over $7 billion have “have done very little to reduce greenhouse pollution”.
So was it unreasonable for Newman to cut so many of these types of programs in Queensland?
All the experts that Crikey spoke to agreed these smaller clean energy programs can be effective, but energy efficiency programs were the best climate policies state governments can implement.
When it comes to implementing energy efficiency policy — encouraging households and industries to maintain basic changes that will help save energy — “the role [of state governments] is absolutely crucial”, Macintosh says. Research and development programs for developing clean energy technology are also very effective for state funding, he adds.
However, states shouldn’t abandon all of its clean technology and emissions cuttings schemes, according to climate lawyer Fergus Green, noting the many co-benefits of these programs. “It may not necessary be the most efficient way of reducing emissions, but it has social implications, it raises community awareness and it makes the green economy real to people through community based projects,” Green told Crikey.
“Some of them probably don’t make much economic and environmental sense, but that goes back more to the unfortunate design of the national scheme. It only really makes sense to [rely on] a national scheme alone if the national scheme is really good and the cap is really strong and it’s going to make a real difference to cutting carbon emissions and economic structural change.”