In December, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) met in Paris to agree on new global carbon emissions reduction targets. There are two main points arising from COP21 that are of direct relevance to South Australians.
The first is of significance to all global citizens; an agreement by 195 national governments to keep the rise in temperature below 2°C and acknowledgment that the global collective should be aiming for 1.5°C to protect island states from sea level rise. This is a major move forward, but the UNFCCC states that the current pledges from collective nations are not enough, allowing predicted global warming to sit between 2.7°C to 3°C. The first review of the pledges will be in five years, where countries will be asked to strengthen their emission reduction targets. Australia’s current emission reduction target (26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030) falls short of expected reductions from developed countries. The second outcome is international recognition that South Australia is leading the nation and, in some aspects, the world in its planning and associated activities relating to both carbon emissions reduction and climate adaptation. If SA was a country, it would be second in the world in its speed of transition to wind and solar, where 41 percent of our state’s energy generation is currently sourced. Premier Jay Weatherill co-chairs the Climate Group’s States and Regions Alliance with leaders of the Quebec and Basque Country and has signed South Australia to the Alliance’s Under2MOU which requires its 80 signatories to commit to slashing emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. However, the State Government is aiming higher; to achieve net zero by 2050, a stance Weatherill sees as an opportunity not a risk. The state’s high profile has resulted in the premier sharing a platform with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and gaining the attention of former US Vice President Al Gore for goals such as net zero emissions by 2050 and predictions the state will reach its 50 percent renewable target by next year. How does South Australia, a small state in a small country, achieve such acknowledgment on a world stage? The answer is multi-faceted. One contributing factor is the recognition that sub-national governments play a very signi ficant role in moving the international climate change agenda, and are positioned to lead change on the ground. Another contributing factor is an enduring framework of climate change governance built in South Australia since the commencement of the Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Act in 2007. But it’s the community and the culture of South Australia that enable the changes on the ground, and change of this magnitude requires collaboration between spheres of government, the community and players across the private sectors One such collaboration is Carbon Neutral Adelaide, where both the State Government and Adelaide City Council are collaborating with the aim of ACC becoming the first carbon neutral city (albeit incorporating carbon offsets sourced from plantings). The ACC and State Government are collectively crafting a transition from a high- to a low-carbon economy. The city has achieved a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the city’s gross productivity by 28 percent and residential growth by 27 percent since 2007. Similarly, the state net emissions are down nine percent on 1990 levels while the economy has grown by more than 60 percent over that same period. Lord Mayor Martin Haese describes this as the “Holy Grail” of the sustainability movement, where economic growth and carbon emissions reduction can continue to occur simultaneously. Importantly, this economy/sustainability nexus is being taken further by both city and state, on the premise that being an early leader can bring more wealth to the state. Weatherill states that the key theme of the States and Regions Alliance was the economic opportunities and future jobs emerging for those who move first on limiting emissions. Collaboration and active commitments provide signals of a stable policy environment that is conducive to attracting business to the state. During the Paris COP, Bruce Carter (Premier’s Climate Council Chair) shared the stage with co-panellists from some of the Climate Group’s RE100 members, as chiefs of Google, IKEA and the European Commission, discussed how companies can lead the way to 100 percent renewable energy. Fifty-three of the world’s largest companies that comprise RE100, including Microsoft, Adobe and BMW Group, have committed to work with jurisdictions with responsible climate change policy, particularly those with commitments of 100 percent renewables, such as SA. SA is inter-connected, collaborative and innovative in policy and in practice and can mobilise to create change relatively quickly. SA has an internationally recognised track record in mobilising itself to realise its renewable energy ambitions, and in climate change adaptation planning. is should encourage the flow of international investment and intellectual capital. Recognition on the domestic front may attract more R&D funding, and entice young people interested in innovation and creating change to stay in the state. Kathryn Bellette is a member of the Premier’s Climate Change Council