A collection of more detailed documents about climate change and climate change policy for the ACT can be found here
What does “40% by 2020” mean?
The ACT Government has endorsed a greenhouse gas reduction target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
Why are you kicking up all this fuss about it?
Political leaders across the world have been spooked by a false and highly organized campaign by fossil fuel interests. This aims to trivialise evidence that we must urgently reduce our dependence on fossil fuels or seriously risk the future of our descendents. Across the world, communities are insisting that legislators must stop listening to industries that make money from fossil fuels and listen to the scientists and to us. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that our greenhouse emissions combined with natural processes will lead to a climate that is hotter than any time humans have been around. We don’t know what this future will look like, but we know our societies will have to adapt in major ways. If we act now, we can have some control over just how much change our descendents will have to adapt to.
What will 40% by 2020 mean for me and my family?
It is common sense for people to want to save money on their energy and transport bills. Many of us can use energy more efficiently and more sparingly and modifying our food and lifestyle choices in directions that will not only reduce our emissions, but also improve our life expectancy. Adopting a target of 40% will mean better public transport, less traffic congestion, cleaner air and better expectations for the future. Canberra will truly become a city of the 21st century.
In the short term Governments will also need to swing into action to provide support for lower income earners as electricity will become marginally more expensive in the short term. Increased access to energy efficiency programmes will also offset this small additional cost. Many Canberrans have already embarked on actions in their homes and daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint. With a strong target their actions will become much more effective and will really start to count towards a global effect when the whole ACT community is committed and working on the task.
Can we get there without sending the ACT into bankruptcy?
Of course we can, but we need to be smart about it. Whilst costs of various options are currently being explored for the ACT government it is clear that to meet the target will require a partnership between the Government business and the community. In the short term it will require the Government to make a financial commitment to the transition, but such leadership will be in the ACT’s quite considerable interest in the longer term.
Will it increase the price of my energy and if so, why should I support it?
It is likely that there will be some increase in electricity costs as a result of this measure. It is important to keep in mind the fact that greater efficiency will accompany increased costs. Expenses will be significantly outweighed by the benefits of more streamlined energy consumption, better public transport and cleaner air. However the longer the Government waits to reduce it’s emissions the greater the likely impact on future electricity prices. Therefore it makes much more sense for the Government to commit to a target of 40% now and manage the transition over the next 10 years.
It is also important to understand that the cheap energy that currently comes to us as a result of burning coal is heavily subsidized by governments. It sounds crazy but Governments around the country are actually paying for the pollution we are suffering. That is a part of the problem of our energy system.
The other problem is that we are not charging energy producers for the costs that their pollution. Imposiing a charge on his pollution would begin to do that. That is why we must agitate for such a price. Meanwhile, if we don’t set targets like this one, we will only almost certainly be handing our children and their children an environmental disaster.
What is the main cause of carbon dioxide emissions generated by ACT residents?
Most emissions in the ACT are associated with the way we go about our daily lives: food, transport, heating/cooling, entertainment etc. This is quite different to the other states and territories where significant greenhouse gas emissions originate from industry. In the ACT each person is estimated to produce about 22.86 tonnes CO2 equivalent per annum as a result of the way they go about their lives. This is actually higher than the national average of 18.9 tonnes per capita. This is why Canberra is the perfect city to lead Australia toward a sustainable future – basic household efficiency measures are among the cheapest ways to reduce carbon pollution,
The ACT figure is made up from the following constituents: Construction and renovations 9.4%, electricity 10.5%, gas and firewood 2%, other household operations 2.5%, transport 10%, food 24.2%, clothing and fabrics 3.2%, furniture and appliances 3.8%, books and magazines 2.1%, all other goods and services 27.8%.
Apart from the emissions that originate elsewhere as a result of some of our purchasing decisions, how much greenhouse gas per capita is actually generated in the ACT and from what sources?
The recent consultancy report to the ACT estimates that in 2007, the ACT was directly responsible for production of 12.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person. 30.9% of emissions were categorized as residential, 39.8% as commercial, 22.4% as transport, 0.7% as agriculture, 3.7% as waste and 0.3% as fugitive. It is this ACT greenhouse figure that will be the main focus of efforts to cut ACT emissions by 40% on 1990 levels. The faster we can move away from fossil fuel derived energy and invest in renewables as a city, the more likely will we be to reach the 40% target. Modifying our transport paterns will also have a profound impact on ACT emissions and will also make Canberra a more liveable city.
Why is it my business and how can I personally change my emissions?
It is your business because it is in everyone’s interest that we preserve the planet as the only possible home for our children. We can all change our personal contribution to global emissions by making our homes more energy efficient, shifting to public transport and pedal power, installing solar energy for our homes, changing our diets, reducing waste, recycling, and concentrating on relationships rather than possessions. But all of this will go only so far without significant commitment by governments to the task and their willingness to take tough decisions about the generation of our power. We need Governments to play their role too, in order to maximize the results of our efforts.
So where is the good news in all this?
The good news about the 40% by 2020 target is that there are things we can all do to build a better future for our city and for her children. We can work together to strengthen neighborhoods and build infrastructure that will enhance the quality of our lives. We can reduce our energy bills by being smarter with the way we use electricity. And we can make Canberra the leader of the green economy Australia wide.
What makes you think we really can achieve this target by 2020?
With over 70% of ACT emissions coming from residential and commercial energy use, and the remainder coming almost entirely from transport, strong cuts are so easy in the ACT! Energy efficiency measures (which apply to the 70% mentioned above) are the cheapest method of reducing emissions. (as shown by McKinsey&Co – one of the world’s most prestigious global consultancy firms) Transport (which accounts for almost all of the rest of our emissions) is also cost effective – Canberrans have the highest private vehicle emissions in the country. We therefore need to get people off the road and onto efficient, reliable public transport. Doing so has the added benefit of reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air. There’s no doubt that with a combination of these measures we can achieve a 40% cut by 2020.
Still don’t believe us?
Woking is located 40km south west of London in the UK, with a population of 90,500 in urban and semi rural settlements. Over a period of 15 years the Woking Borough Council has developed effective environmental strategies with a key focus on energy management and greenhouse reduction. By 2006, the combined efforts had resulted in the council reducing its own emissions by 82% and community wide emissions by 21%. Other towns and cities across the world are developing Transition plans and are following in Woking’s footsteps. The Sydney City Council has recently hired the architect of Woking’s success to help do the same in Sydney.
Clearly, we have the knowledge and the capacity; nothing stands in the way but political lethargy. We just need your support.
I understand that the scientists can’t agree that the planet is warming, let alone that human actions have anything to do with it, if it is. If the scientists can’t agree how can ordinary people like me know what is what?
There is always healthy debate in science but the overwhelming force of reputable scientific opinion supports the view that recent human activities have, and will continue to contribute to man-made climate-change. The national science academies of the G8, as well Brazil, China, India and the rest of the OECD countries all explicitly endorse the IPCC consensus on Climate Change. That consensus is the result of one of the most extensive peer review processes in the history of science, representing the work and support of tens of thousands of scientific specialists from the areas of climatology, geology, archaeology and a range of other fields. This is a difficult story for the media to tell to people like you and me, which is why there is so much confusion in our national debate.
Okay, so suppose you are right and the world is getting hotter, what difference will a few degrees rise in the temperature of the planet make?
The earth’s biosphere functions on the basis of a delicately balanced climate system. Scientific research shows that in the past, global temperature fluctuations of just a few degrees have had major effects for the interrelated ecosystems that make up the Earth. The scientific consensus is that unless we do something to halt greenhouse gas emissions now, the ecosystems that we depend on for life will shift rapidly, making our economies and lives as we now know them very different.
I understand that some scientists accept that the planet is warming but they think it is about changes in the behaviour of the sun and that it’s got nothing to do with humans. What do you have to say about that?
There is a broad agreement in the scientific community that while other factors are, and have always contributed to natural climate change, the current warming is happening faster than it ever has in the past. Human activities are speeding up global warming far beyond the point at which it can be handled by humans and many other species.
If the science is so clear and it’s such an emergency, why couldn’t the scientists persuade world leaders in Copenhagen to do something serious about it?
Governments in Copenhagen could not be persuaded by scientists to act because many industries – coal, oil, gas and others – pressured them into remaining lethargic. Their profits depend on the inaction of government, so it’s no surprise that they are doing everything within their power to frustrate efforts to interfere with them. In this they are behaving in many ways like the cigarette manufacturers did for many years to hold back and frustrate essential public health action on smoking. It is also impossible for a government to commit to an international decision that their voters will not agree with, which is why we have to let our leaders on both sides of politics know that we want action.
Well I might be willing to accept that global warming is happening and that human activity has got something to do with greenhouse gases, but I’ve heard that it is now too late for us to do anything about it. Is that correct?
There are certainly reputable scientists and economists who believe that Copenhagen was the last chance for the world to reach agreement in time to reduce global emissions down to safe levels. Others, like James Hansen – one of the world’s leading climate scientists- believe that if we act now, we still have a chance to avert catastrophic climate change. But nobody believes we have the luxury of time on our side – that’s why the ACT should take this opportunity to set an ambitious target.
But what point is there in Australia running itself broke to fix the world’s problem? We are only a tiny country and produce only a tiny proportion of the world’s greenhouse gases. Isn’t it up to the Americans and Chinese to work this out?
If everyone waits until everyone else to act, no one will do anything and runaway climate change is certainly inevitable. Both the Chinese and the Americans are now well ahead of Australia on this matter which has lost precious time in the past twelve months. The ACT government is one of only two or three governments in Australia which is pressing ahead with real action despite the impasse at the Federal level. Now is an excellent time for the national capital to set the pace for the rest of Australia. Showing how change can be done is a powerful way to influence the rest of our country.
So you want to shut down Australia’s coalmines and stop exporting coal, one of Australia’s biggest export earners. What will you say to the coal miners and their families about that?
When we say we want the government to take leadership on this issue, we mean responsible, economically sound leadership – this means retraining coal miners with skills that apply to the sustainable industries of the future. Current concerns about the health hazards involved in mining in the Hunter Valley also show that miners deserve safer ways to earn a living. Not a job needs to be lost if the Federal Government gets serious about the switch to renewable energy and optimizing energy efficiency; we will simply end up with an energy labor force that is clean and sustainable. The ACT can invest in renewable power now, growing the nation’s renewable sector.
Yeah I know, we’re always talking about solar and wind power. But there is such a thing as baseload power. We have to have it when we need it, not when the sun shines or the wind blows. Can you solve the baseload power problem with renewables?
The short answer is “Yes”. Solar thermal generation, geothermal generation and redesign of electricity grids are among innovations that are much closer to realisation than “clean coal”. An intermediate cleaner approach than coal to the baseload power issue is natural gas combustion. It is only lack of voter voices and political will that are limiting investment and growth in this sector.
What about nuclear power and uranium?
While a number of countries have decided that nuclear power is a good solution for their greenhouse gas problem it is actually, more expensive, takes much longer and is much more dangerous. The nuclear debate is alive in Australia especially because of our plentiful supplies of uranium. The debate is likely to continue but in the meantime we have a massive supply of free sunlight and enormous potential supplies of geothermal energy, to say nothing o the availability of tidal and wind energy, all of which can be turned into electricity in less than half the time it would take to establish a nuclear power plant. We need to invest in those technologies which have proven benefits and much lesser costs.
I’ve heard that we could fix this problem by planting trees. Is that correct?
You are correct that tree planting and other ways of trapping CO2 in plants and into the ground know as “bio-sequestration” is an important part of the solution to reducing CO2 emissions, and stopping land clearing in Australia is an important part of what Governments need to do. But this is not enough. We still need to stop this pollution at its source and that is at the point of fossil fuel combustion. Even if we did stop chopping down all of the trees, it wouldn’t be enough to slow the alarming rate of man-made global warming. While forests represent one of the earth’s most important carbon sinks, deforestation is rapidly depleting them. Far from planting more trees, we’re actually reducing the earth’s capacity to absorb CO2! Eliminating environmental destruction is therefore an important part of the fight against climate change, but in isolation it is not enough.
So do you think we can solve this problem by changing our light bulbs and turning our TV off at the switch?
Changing light bulbs and turning off the TV is a good start but there are also other problems that need to be tackled at the same time. Quite simply we need to produce our electricity in a cleaner smarter way. Whilst Governments continue to support an electricity industry based on burning coal, these companies will keep being given a licence to pollute. Ordinary people like me and you can’t stop the pollution coming out of the pipe, but we can demand our governments stiffen their resolve on this issue.
I have a great faith in the science of innovation. Can’t we find a technological solution to this global warming stuff?
You’re exactly right. Luckily, scientists have been working on renewable energy technologies for years and we can make the change now if the Government takes the initiative. Our voices must be heard if it is to make that choice.
So what can I do about it?
Let your local members hear from you: write a letter to your ACT representatives.
Learn more: regularly consult our website, join our mailing list, and have a look at local government websites regarding climate change in the ACT.
Join in: Get involved in one of the groups that are part of Canberra ♥40%; They are listed on our website. Talk to your friends and family about climate change and the ACT.