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States to collaborate on climate change

A meeting of state environment ministers and officials on 4 May sent a strong message about working collaboratively to achieve ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Christiana Figueres (pictured), executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change addressed the meeting, urging the states and territories to work with the federal government to help deliver a “strong” global agreement at the UN climate change conference in Paris later this year. A communique from the meeting Figueres said “Collaboration between the different levels of government is critical…She urged Australian governments to share the common responsibility of climate change regardless of political parties.”

The meeting was organised by the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, and attended by the environment ministers of the Labor states and territories – Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the deputy chief minister of the ACT. The federal government, Tasmanian and New South Wales governments were represented by senior officers.

The meeting “noted recommendations by the Climate Change Authority for a minimum 2020 reduction target of 19 per cent, rising to 30 per cent by 2025 in order to meet international expectations” according to the communique. They discussed “how they can work together on the establishment of appropriate emissions reduction goals at the state and territory level through the Compact of States and Regions, which requires subnational governments to report their greenhouse gas emissions targets and inventory data.” They will "share information on emission reduction targets and how individual jurisdictions are tracking against these targets.”

The other areas of work agreed at the meeting where increasing uptake of renewable energy, coordinating energy-efficiency schemes and helping communities adapt to climate change.

The communique says the meeting agreed to work collaboratively on “joint policies to drive uptake in renewable energy including large scale solar and wind projects”, and to “harmonise the delivery of energy efficiency schemes to further reduce costs for households and businesses and to improve consistency across states and territories.” It also agreed to “improve information sharing and best practice delivery in adaptation to support community resilience in responding to the impacts of climate change.”

Aligning state energy efficiency incentive schemes makes sense. South Australia, NSW and Victoria all have legislated energy efficiency schemes that oblige energy retailers to help households and businesses save energy. But they all operate with different rules, sectoral coverage, targets and objectives. A Prime Minister’s task group on Energy Efficiency in 2010 recommended a national energy efficiency savings scheme to replace the state schemes to drive a national target and reduce red tape.

The NSW and Victorian governments are currently reviewing their schemes with a view to expand them. The Queensland Labor government is yet to announce details of its election commitment to increase production of renewable energy by investing in renewable energy research and development and facilitating access to the energy grid.

State and territory programs to support uptake of renewable energy have been important in recent years with the uncertainty about the federal Renewable Energy Target. ACT and NSW government funding programs have been successful in supporting uptake of renewable energy by households and business over the past year or so. The Victorian government has announced that it will “establish a $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund to encourage investment in the renewables sector and focus on the development of technology for the generation and storage of clean energy...”. And there’ll more to come as part of the government’s review of the Climate Change Act this year.

The Victorian and Queensland governments have committed to actions in response to the policies of previous governments in those states. The Victoria Labor government for example, moved quickly after it was elected to remove bans on wind farms under state planning policy. The Queensland Labor Policy Platform meanwhile commits to reintroducing “protection of native vegetation cover as the most effective, large-scale means of carbon sequestration.”

Although it wasn't mentioned in the communique state and territory governments would do well to include on their agenda improvements in energy efficiency in building standards. The South Australian government is already leading a National Energy Efficient Building Project to improve energy efficiency in new buildings, renovations and additions on behalf of all states and territories.

State and territory governments working together with the federal government could make a serious impact on Australia's climate change policies if they can move beyond partisan politics. The senior officials group tasked with implementing the agreed actions will have to show great agility.

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