Policy Recommendation #1: High-voltage Transmission Upgrades
Policy Recommendation #2: A national Electric Vehicle Strategy that Supercharges EV Take-up
Policy Recommendation #3: Use the Emissions Reduction Fund to Achieve Emissions Reductions
Sadly, national-level discourse around climate change policy in Australia entered a new phase of “stupid” this month, with the National Party brazenly declaring agriculture and regional Australia should be totally exempt from any net-zero target. This discourse is occurring despite Australia’s peak farming advocacy bodies—National Farmers’ Federation, Meat & Livestock Australia, and Grain Growers’ Australia—having committed net-zero emission policies by 2050. The incident highlights the difficulty with proposing any recommendations that would enable Australia to achieve a 50% emission reduction, and eventually net-zero. Bold climate policy is being left to individual organizations, corporate entities, and state governments, who then have to contend with blow back from the federal government. The refusal to enshrine any national-level targets in legislation or even basic policy is as frustrating as it is counter-productive.
Luckily, these same organizations, corporations, and state governments are working together behind the scenes to decarbonize Australia regardless of the current federal government. Carefully directed policy proposals can have significant impact at a sub-federal level. As well, there are options for “low-hanging fruit” proposals that can act as good initial negotiating points with federal politicians; they have clearly been rattled by the strong climate position of the Biden administration and carbon tax proposals on Australian exports from the UK and EU.
Policy Recommendation 1: High-voltage Transmission Upgrades
One of the key barriers to quick uptake of renewable energy is existing grid constraints. The opposition Labor party presented a plan last year to “rewire” the electricity grid based on a report prepared by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). Straightforward (and long overdue) infrastructure upgrades would stimulate job creation and enable significant amounts of renewable energy and battery storage to enter the national grid. At the end of 2020, New South Wales passed significant in-state legislation creating several “Renewable Energy Zones” that would be connected and integrated via significant investment in transmission infrastructure. The Victorian state government is making similar moves to undo grid bottlenecks in poorly-developed parts of the state. The tricky part is ensuring that inter-state connections and overall grid balance are maintained, which is where federal oversight and/or cooperation is needed. But, with the feasibility reports already completed, little more is required than following the good work done by AEMO.
Policy Recommendation 2: A National Electric Vehicle Strategy that Supercharges EV Take-Up
This recommendation is perhaps the most pressing. This month Victoria’s only petroleum refinery announced it would close its doors this year, thus removing half the state’s refined fuel production capacity. Public polling shows that a majority of people in Australia would purchase an electric vehicle (EV) if it was affordable and if charging networks were widespread. The federal government has a chance to support this via a committed national strategy, but instead this month chose to release an “updated” EV plan suspiciously similar to the existing plan (which is now two years old).
Policy Recommendation 3: Use the Emissions Reduction Fund to Achieve Emissions Reductions!
The current federal government’s only direct emissions reductions policy has been chastised for a number of reasons. Among these are: its low utilisation, its awarding of funds to fossil fuels and low abatement projects, its refusal to fund carbon farming projects, its funding of projects that would have proceeded regardless, its funding of questionable revegetation projects, and its bias towards fossil fuel executives participating on committees. If fully utilised and properly directed, the ERF could make a significant abatement contribution. It could also be used as an incentive for future low-carbon industries (carbon farming, renewable hydrogen and/or ammonia, electrification, alternative transportation fuels etc.) to be established in Australia. Rather than pursuing legislative change, Australia bolster more effective usage of ERF by making appropriate committee appointments and by integrating the Fund into a wider climate policy strategy.
Likelihood of achieving these proposals
There are no financial or public popularity barriers to any of these three policy proposals being taken up. Work on high-voltage transmission upgrades has already begun, is based on existing feasibility reports and roadmaps, and has the backing of all state governments. The federal Labor Party opposition has even costed this policy program. The only holdup appears to be that these upgrades will allow a flood of renewable energy and battery storage to enter the grid, likely accelerating the closure of existing fossil fuel generators. Likewise, appropriate use of the Emissions Reduction Fund seems to be caught up in ideological interests. Although the program is nowhere near what is necessary for Australia to achieve its emissions reduction obligations, it could be a valuable incentive for corporate entities to implement innovative, substantial emissions reductions projects. Finally, the absence of a national EV strategy (especially in light of General Motors’ announcement this month) is bewildering given existing public support for EV uptake. The opportunities presented by these three policy proposals are there for the taking, and only require following the good work of other organizations, state, and international governments.
Honorable Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy & Energy Reductions
Address: 18 Hill Street Camden, Camden NSW, 2570
Telephone: +612 4658 7188
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison