The July to October period has seen some incredible leaps in the Australian renewables sector despite lack of federal government support. The state of Tasmania is currently legislating a world-leading 200% renewable energy target. In October, South Australia became the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered by 100% rooftop solar for any length of time (1.5 hours on October 11). The 28GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub was granted major project status, and when finished will be the second-largest power plant in the world. A newly-elected Queensland state government will continue the state’s transition to renewable power, and the enormous potential of renewables-produced hydrogen is gaining momentum around the country–particularly amongst state Energy Ministers.
In October our national Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Niña event had started in the Pacific, bringing cooler conditions and increased rainfall to southeast Australia; a welcome reprieve from the catastrophic fire conditions of last summer. However, La Niña brings with it increased risk of tropical cyclones and flooding, and northern Australia is on high alert as memories of the last La Niña-induced extreme weather events still linger (Brisbane City floods and Cyclone Yasi in the summer of 2010-11). Townsville’s record, climate-driven 2018-19 floods are also fresh in Queenslander’s memories.
And although Australia’s official bushfire season has been active for months now, it wasn’t until the end of October that the Royal Commission into 2019-20’s Black Summer fires handed down its final report, warning that last summer was only a “glimpse” of the climate-fueled, extreme fire weather global heating is causing. Bizarrely, Australia’s current federal government has not spent any additional funding on bushfire preparedness or articulated any new emergency strategies since last summer’s highly visceral events.
In the climate justice arena, Australia’s federal government has asked the UN to dismiss a case brought against them by the “Torres Island Eight”. The group of Indigenous Australians are rightly incensed that there are no protection plans or mitigation strategies in place to defend their island home and communities from rising sea levels in Australia’s North, and are calling on the UN Human Rights Court to intervene on their behalf.
The federal Coalition government has also caused outrage by ramming changes to Australia’s only environmental protection legislation through parliament, and before a major review of the laws is completed by a government-appointed committee. The government is seeking to devolve environmental approvals power to the individual states in a bid to speed up processes and cut “green tape” – though the major committee review of the laws concluded that delays in the approval process are solely due to budget cuts in the Department of Environment and that the effects of so-called “green tape” (including lawsuits by environmental activists to delay projects) were insignificant.
Australia will go to the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit with no updated climate pledges, and the federal government has been heavily criticised for continuing to insist that Australia will meet and beat its Paris targets in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A recently announced “Technology Roadmap” provides no new details for how Australia will achieve the necessary emissions reductions. Though new coal for Australia seems to be out of the picture, the federal government is pushing hard for a “gas-fired” recovery to the pandemic with new investment in onshore gas extraction and infrastructure. There is, however, very little community support or enthusiasm for new gas projects.
Activity Rating: ** Moving towards Paris, but federal inertia remains
Australia is decarbonising, but the process is being driven by local and state governments, as well as privately-funded projects. Although state level politicians are becoming more vocal about the benefits and necessity of transitioning away from carbon-intensive industries, federal politicians continue to stymie progress. This is nowhere more apparent than in the federal approach to Australia’s pandemic recovery, where a narrow, gas-focused solution to manufacturing and energy has been decided on despite little-to-no community support. Given last summer’s catastrophic bushfires you would think accelerating towards Paris goals and limiting global heating would be a priority, but there’s no extra impetus. Though Australia will most likely face a cooler, wetter summer this year, the threat of climate-driven extreme weather in the form of cyclones and flooding is heightened and there is no extra spending or planning in place to face another summer of climate disasters.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison