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ACT Government policy on greenhouse gas emissions and electricity from renewable energy has made the ACT a leader both nationally and internationally. What really stands out now is that finally goals for strong action have all-party support.

On 29 August Jeremy Hanson MLA, leader of the Canberra Liberals, committed to support the current 100% renewable target by 2020, the 40% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2020 and zero net emissions by 2050. He said: the “reality is that this is now legislated” and the “contracts are signed… so it’s kind of happening whether we like it or not, but we are very happy to support that”.

The Conservation Council ACT Region welcomes this commitment. While we will continue to urge for zero net emissions by 2040 at the latest and the need for an interim 2030 target, the reality is that we have unprecedented major party support for strong climate change targets and actions to deliver them.

The Canberra community cares about climate change and has demonstrated we are willing to do our bit. The community has wanted successive ACT Governments to take a strong leadership role and supports action on climate change. A July 2016 survey of Canberra citizens found that 90% agree climate change is a problem, 71% believe they will be seriously affected, 80% believe the ACT Government needs to act urgently, and residents are willing to pay an extra cost incurred by climate action. This reflects a 2013 survey which found that 76% of Canberrans believe it is moderately or very urgent for the ACT Government to take action to tackle climate change and 81% want the ACT Government to take strong leadership to help ACT residents tackle climate change.

The ACT’s climate policy is working. In 2010 the ACT Government set greenhouse gas reduction targets and started to invest in renewable energy. Already over 20% of our electricity is from renewable sources and we are on track to deliver 100% renewable energy by 2020. Our greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 11.8%!

One challenge over the last six years has been a lack of clear political agreement on our climate goals and a concern that our good work could be undone. A historical perspective is useful here.

On 26 August 2010 Minister for the Environment, Simon Corbell MLA introduced the Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Bill 2010. The legislation was subsequently passed in October 2010. It went to a vote 9 in favour (ALP-Greens) and 5 against (Canberra Liberals).

It was debated at the same time as the Climate Change (Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets) Bill 2008 first introduced July 2008 by Shadow Environment Minister Vicki Dunne MLA then re-re-introduced by Leader of the Opposition, Zed Seselja MLA in the first sitting of the Eighth Assembly on 10 December 2008 then debated in 2010. Again this went to a vote with a converse outcome – defeated 9 votes to 5.

Both Liberal and Labor bills sought to address the need for local action on climate change and how we here in the ACT could be leaders. The Liberal legislation also called for a renewable energy target of 20% by 2014.

The key difference between the two bills was the greenhouse gas reduction target: Canberra Liberals had 30% by 2020 compared with the Greens-Labor 40% target. Both bills recognised the importance of long-term targets as well as interim targets. They were so close yet unity didn’t happen at that time.

Earlier in 1997 then Liberal Minister for the Environment Gary Humphries introduced the ACT’s first climate strategy proposing to reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2008. In doing so this made the ACT to have the first greenhouse reduction targets of any jurisdiction in Australia. Again this strategy became politicised and there was no agreement on the goals across the major parties.

So now it is great news that all major parties agree on the same goals through legislative endorsement in May 2016 and now reinforced by the Liberals’ commitment. We don’t want action on climate change to be politicised. Climate change affects us all and we all need to work together to deal with it. As a community we want to be confident of ongoing and dedicated strong local action on climate change. If we have agreed goals it means we can focus on getting on with reducing emissions. It’s time for all parties in other States and the Northern Territory and nationally to follow our lead.

With 2015 the hottest year on record, so far, climate action has never been more urgent. We need to meet the Paris 2015 global commitment to a new aspirational aim of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5° Celsius.

We celebrate that Canberra is well on the path to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and our existing greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energy targets put us in the lead in Australia and in many world comparisons. We celebrate that we now have all-party support for our climate goals. We need to do this for the planet, for future generations and for a climate friendly future for all.

However we need to keep focussed. We have a plan to be 100 % electricity from renewable energy by 2020 … but we don’t have a post-2020 plan to get to zero net emissions. Climate science is changing rapidly and we have no interim targets before 2050 and no review mechanisms of our targets. Can we do zero net emissions sooner than 2050? What is our 2030 target? How do we align our goals with the science of climate change? If anywhere can do this, Canberra can.

We need to remember there is no Planet B.

Larry O’Loughlin, Executive Director, Conservation Council ACT Region

[see all the Conservation Council policies for the 2016 election here]