Climate change is a system response to increasing population, increasing consumption and, therefore, the type of economic development that our societies are pursuing. The response to climate change therefore requires collaborative and focused efforts at the international, national and local levels.
Responding effectively to climate change requires both mitigation and adaptation:
- Mitigation is tackling the causes of climate change – in other words, reducing the human-influenced emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Although some climate change is now inevitable, mitigation is designed to limit the degree of climate change.
- Adaptation is action to cope with the impacts of climate change on our human settlements and our natural environment. Adaptation increases our resilience, and allows us to live with and limit the impacts of climate change.
Building the resilience of the ACT’s socioecological systems to cope with climate change impacts is a key challenge for the years ahead. It is important to consider how the ACT can be resilient in the face of specific and anticipated threats, such as increased bushfires and droughts. We must also think about how to build general resilience of the ACT to be able to deal with unforeseen climate change impacts. Increasing the diversity of water sources for Canberra, encouraging and supporting strong social networks in families and neighbourhoods, and ensuring that Government agencies are able to adapt and learn from extreme events are just some examples of the broad range of ways that the ACT can become more resilient to ongoing climate challenges.
In 2013, the IPCC detailed, for the first time, the maximum amount of carbon emissions that can enter the atmosphere worldwide to limit temperature change. This global ‘carbon budget’ is around 1000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.
Around the world, governments, individuals, businesses and industries are taking action against carbon pollution through a variety of measures. Many governments have agreed to limit carbon pollution in an effort to ensure that the average global temperature rise can be held below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The aim is to limit global concentrations of carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million (ppm). Pre-industrial levels were 280 ppm; recent data from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii have shown that global carbon dioxide recently passed 400 ppm. There is therefore a need for urgent and critical action, and, reflecting this, some international investments in renewable energy alternatives have overtaken conventional high-pollution energy generation.38
Against a background of various discussions, negotiations and agreements, the United Nations is currently developing a new international climate change agreement that will cover all countries. The new agreement will be adopted at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 and implemented from 2020. It will take the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or ‘an agreed outcome with legal force’, and will be applicable to all parties.
In the lead-up to this global summit, parties have been encouraged to declare their targets and commitments, called their ‘intended nationally determined contribution’. There have been some hopeful signs of progress – 55 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have now made significant commitments. For example:
- the United States will cut its emissions by 26–28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025
- China will agree that its emissions will peak by 2030
- the European Union’s contribution to the new agreement will be a binding, economy-wide, domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 40% by 2030.
The UNFCCC Secretariat will publish these contributions and prepare, by 1 November 2015, a synthesis report to assess whether they put us on track to keep global warming below 2 °C.
In developing its targets, the Australian Government sought advice from the Climate Change Authority. In a report released in July 2015,39 the Authority recommended:
- a 2025 target of 30% below 2000 levels
- further reductions by 2030 of 40–60% below 2000 levels.
Overall, the Authority considers that:
- the recommended targets are consistent with climate science
- the targets are comparable to the targets of similar countries
- the costs of achieving targets, and the distribution of those costs, are best considered in the design of policies
- the costs must be considered against the economic, social and environmental benefits of avoiding dangerous climate change.
The Australian Government has now submitted its commitment to the UNFCCC. Australia’s commitment of 26–28% reduction in 2005 emissions levels by 2030 falls short of the targets that the IPCC considered necessary to limit warming to 2 °C. The target is also set against 2005 levels rather than 2000 levels, because 2005 was a year with higher emissions than 2000.
National governments are not the only players that can potentially affect greenhouse gas emissions. Individual cities are well positioned to play a leadership role in driving local action to address climate change. Cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and create more than 70% of global carbon emissions. National governments are often focused on geopolitical issues, which can hamper cooperation. In contrast, cities – individually and collectively – are often in a better position to cooperate, and are often more effective at identifying and acting on the needs of residents. With closer proximity to the public, cities tend to be more pragmatic and concerned about the sustainability of day-to-day services than higher levels of government.
Depending on the unique circumstances of each city – including local climate risks, political environments, resources and capacity constraints – different types of plans, policies and programs may be used. Some cities have stand-alone climate action plans in place, whereas others have mainstreamed climate change information into existing plans and policies. In some cases, cities have an emissions reduction target in place.
The ACT community has supported strong targets and action by our Government so that we are playing our part in the global climate change challenge. We have set targets that are consistent with those that IPCC experts tell us are required to limit change to the critical 2 °C warming and, indeed, are ambitious enough to help tackle warming at the higher end of the range – up to 6 °C. The ACT is therefore beginning the process of transformational change to our economy that the IPCC considers is required to slow climate change.
The ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets have been established through the Climate Change Act, and the ACT Government has also developed two action plans – the ACT climate change strategy: Weathering the Change40 and AP2: A new climate change strategy and action plan for the Australian Capital Territory41 – to implement the Climate Change Act.
The Climate Change Act was enacted by the ACT Legislative Assembly on 5 November 2010. The Climate Change Act sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT, provides for monitoring and reporting in relation to targets and functions performed by the Minister for the Environment, and promotes community and business engagement in climate change mitigation and adaptation through the establishment of the Climate Change Council and sector agreements.
The Climate Change Act prescribes the following:
- The principal target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT to achieve zero net emissions by 30 June 2060.
- The interim targets are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT to achieve
- 40% less than 1990 emissions by 30 June 2020
- 80% less than 1990 emissions by 30 June 2050.
- The average amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced per person in the ACT each year is to peak by 30 June 2013.
The second action plan (AP2), released in September 2012, was designed as the ACT’s guide to meeting the targets prescribed by the Climate Change Act. AP2 identifies and targets emissions reductions across the ACT community, with actions in five key sectors, which correspond to the major emissions sources in our community:
- residential sector energy use
- non-residential sector energy use
- transport sector
- waste sector
- energy supply sector.
In 2020, around 553 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent savings is targeted through electricity, gas and transport fuel savings, and through reductions in emissions from the ACT’s landfill sites. The remaining reductions are expected to be achieved through changing the generation mix of electricity supplied to the ACT.
The key actions are:
- reducing residential sector emissions (Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme [EEIS], see Case study 2.1; Actsmart Home Energy Efficiency program)
- reducing non-residential sector emissions (EEIS; Actsmart Business Energy and Water program)
- transitioning to large-scale renewable energy sector (solar and wind auctions)
- reducing transport sector emissions (Transport for Canberra policy; Low Emission Vehicle Strategy)
- reducing waste sector emissions (ACT Waste Management Strategy 2011–2025)
- reducing emissions from government operations (Carbon Neutral Government Framework, see Case study 2.3).
Case study 2.3 The Carbon Neutral Government Framework
The ACT Government is leading by example to achieve carbon neutrality in its own operations by 2020 through the implementation of the Carbon Neutral Government Framework. Endorsed in August 2012, the framework provides a whole-of-government approach to achieving sustained emissions reductions and energy savings to become carbon neutral in a cost-effective manner.
The 2012–13 ACT Budget provided $5 million to establish the Carbon Neutral Government Fund, which can provide loans to ACT Government agencies to invest in efficiency projects that will reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and minimise the impact of rising energy costs. Energy savings are used to repay the loan, making these funds available for new projects.
Since 2010, 18 ACT Government projects have been established, with a total of $6.5 million in loans provided under the fund; $2.4 million worth of loans have already been repaid and those funds loaned for further projects. In 2014–15, these projects made an estimated saving of at least 7400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Large-scale LED lighting projects installing internal lighting to more than 90 government buildings and schools have an estimated cost saving (once fully implemented) of $1.3 million per year, reducing electricity use by 20–30% at most sites.
The recently announced $3.3 million loan to the Health Directorate is for a combined project that includes an energy-efficient lighting upgrade throughout Canberra Hospital. This will reduce electricity consumed by the hospital by approximately 9%. Reducing electricity consumption also means a financial saving by decreasing the electrical load of the site. To further supplement the electricity reduction at the site, the Health Directorate will tender for a 500 kW solar photovoltaic system to be installed. The combined electricity savings from the lighting retrofit and solar photovoltaic system will produce annual savings of $490 000 each year. The loan will be fully repaid into the Carbon Neutral Government Fund during the coming years, to be made available for other energy efficiency projects.
Sustainable Skills Hub, Canberra Institute of Technology, Bruce. Photo: ACT Government
ACT Government electric vehicles. Photo: ACT Government
The ACT community has also contributed to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (see Community case study 2.4) by:
- installing roof-top solar panels with the encouragement of the ACT Government feed-in tariff, but also increasingly on their own initiative
- retrofitting older houses or designing new ones with energy efficiency in mind
- joining the increasing numbers of people who use active transport through riding and walking
- recycling, reusing and reducing waste.
How are we going?
AP2 provides for the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment to assess every three years whether the ACT Government is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate change and leading a sustainable future. The first assessment, an Implementation Status Report, was published in 2014 and found that AP2, combined with the greenhouse gas reduction targets prescribed by the Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act 2010, positions the ACT among the world’s most progressive jurisdictions in terms of mitigating the impacts of climate change.
When compared with 14 Australian and 10 international cities, the ACT’s climate change policies and actions are at least on par with, and in some cases leading, other Australian and international cities in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Against national and international targets, Canberra compares well with its proposed greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. In comparison, the Australian Government has committed to a new target of 26–28% reduction in 2005 emissions levels by 2030, replacing a previous unconditional 5% reduction in emissions on 2000 levels by 2020. Canberra’s target aligns closely with a number of international cities.
Canberra is one of the few cities that has a target of being carbon neutral. Of the cities used in the Implementation Status Report comparison, Canberra’s target is set the furthest into the future (2060). However, the Carbon Neutral Government Framework requires the ACT Government to be carbon neutral in its own operations by 2020.42
The progress on AP2 since its implementation in 2013 is as follows:
- The ACT is on track to reach its 90% by 2020 renewable energy target. In 2013–14, 18.6% of the ACT’s electricity supply came from renewable sources. This is being realised through a number of large-scale renewable projects procured by an innovative reverse auction process, which won a gold Banksia Award in 2014. In 2014–15, there were 45 megawatts (MW) of small- and medium-scale solar electricity systems installed in the ACT.
- By 2018, the ACT will have secured renewable energy supply equal to 80% of its forecast 2020 electricity demand. This includes the 20 MW Royalla solar farm, which has been operational since August 2014; a further 20 MW of large-scale solar installation expected to become operational in 2016; and three successful proponents of the 200 MW wind auction announced on 6 February 2015.
- Further development of renewables is also in train. A second 200 MW wind auction is planned for late 2015, and there is potential for 1 MW community solar and 50 MW next-generation solar.
- Renewable energy jobs in the ACT have increased more than 400% in the past five years. This is a rate of growth four times higher than any other Australian state or territory. The Renewable Energy Industry Development Strategy, announced on 1 May 2015, brings together a range of existing government renewable energy initiatives (eg the $1.2 million Renewable Energy Innovation Fund and the $50 million next-generation solar initiative) with new initiatives (eg the development of a physical business–research precinct with the Australian National University, and renewable energy test-berth facilities) to accelerate the expansion of the renewable energy industry in the ACT.
- Transport for Canberra actions are designed to improve vehicle efficiency, and increase use of walking, cycling and public transport use. The Low Emission Vehicle Strategy will build on the ACT Government’s Green Vehicle Duty Scheme to further encourage the uptake of low-emissions vehicles.
- Work towards the Zero Emissions Building Policy has started, with a review of the ACT Building Act 2004 and the building regulation system. This will consider, as part of a broad policy review, improving building energy performance, including consideration of new or amended building standards.
- The ACT Government has brought forward the annual inventory of ACT greenhouse gas emissions that is required under the Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act 2010. These will now be available in the months following the end of the reporting year. An interim inventory for 2012–13 and 2013–14 was released in April 2015.
- Emissions reduction targets are being met. The previous inventory found that the ACT has met its first legislated emissions reduction target of per-capita emissions, peaking by 2013. Territory emissions fell by 8% between 2011–12 and 2013–14, in line with the projections presented in AP2.
Community case study 2.4 350.org
350.org Canberra is a diverse mix of people working as part of 350.org globally to reduce CO2 emissions to preserve a livable planet. Photo: Chris Cooper, 350 Canberra
350.org is a global climate movement that organises campaigns, grassroots events and mass public actions, coordinated by a global network that is active in more than 188 countries. In Australia, 350.org is a not-for-profit group funded from private donations and operated by volunteers. Canberra has an active 350.org team.
350.org uses mass mobilisations and people power to effect systemic change. The campaigns strive to hold government, business and industry leaders accountable to the realities of climate science, and to principles of justice for current and future generations.
350.org also uses ‘divestment’ as a key strategy in reducing carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging investors to shift funds away from fossil fuels. For example, locally, the Australian National University decided in 2014 to divest shareholdings in seven resource and mining companies. As part of its ACT divestment strategy, the 350.org team has analysed quarterly ACT Government reports to draw attention to the role of investment choices in providing continuing support for the fossil fuel industry.
In August 2015, the ACT Government announced that it would ‘responsibly divest over a five-year period from companies that are listed in the Carbon Underground Top 200 list published by Fossil Free Indexes’.a
a The Carbon Underground 200 is an annually updated listing of the top 100 public coal companies globally and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally, ranked by the potential carbon emissions content of their reported reserves. The list is available at http://gofossilfree.org/top-200.
View of Royalla Solar Farm Photo: ACT Government
In contrast to climate change mitigation, which requires cooperation at a global level, most climate change adaptation occurs at a local level through the actions of individuals, businesses and communities in response to locally specific climate change impacts.
The level of adaptation needed will depend, to some extent, on the success of mitigation. If mitigation is successful in limiting climate change, less adaptation will be needed. However, even with mitigation, some climate change is inevitable, and adaptation responses are required by all communities. By increasing our community’s and our environment’s resilience to the diverse challenges we may face, we can minimise the impacts of climate change, and realise other significant social and economic benefits of sustainable and equitable development.
The ACT’s approach to adaptation is consistent with the national Climate Adaptation Outlook: A proposed national adaptation assessment framework (2013). The strategies in this framework aim to build understanding and adaptive capacity, and reduce sectoral and regional vulnerability to climate change impacts.
AP2 addresses adaptation to the consequences of climate change through:
- a new ACT-wide risk assessment to inform future health system planning, and natural disaster and emergency risk management and planning
- a ministerial statement on how the built environment and urban open spaces will be developed to respond to climate change
- a review of the development codes and design standards in the Territory Plan 2008 to incorporate the ACT’s long-term mitigation objectives
- an assessment of impacts on ecological systems in the ACT and the surrounding region, and integration of this knowledge into environmental management and development planning decisions to ensure that our natural environment is conserved and improved.
The ACT Government is developing a draft adaptation strategy, which will build on the work already done through the risk assessment and ministerial statement. The draft strategy is being developed through ‘Enabling adaptation in the ACT’ meetings and workshops. These have been conducted with the ACT Climate Change Council, our community’s academic and local peak bodies, the NSW Government and ACT Government agencies. The key focus is to improve the resilience of our community to deal with unavoidable climate change impacts, particularly on those who are vulnerable and less able to make adjustments.
How are we going?
In the implementation Status Report, the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment investigated and assessed the ACT’s adaptation policies and strategies using a methodology based on the one described in Australia State of the Environment 2011.43 The assessment looked at both general adaptation needs, which represent a series of key requirements to facilitate successful adaptation strategies, and specific adaptation needs, which address specific identified vulnerabilities for the ACT.
The assessment found that, for general adaptation needs:
- political commitment was very effective
- funding, strategy and action plans, and knowledge management and data were effective
- governance, and communication and awareness were partially effective.
Specific adaptation needs were also assessed. Plans for:
- water, heat management and bushfires were considered very effective
- urban planning, emergency management, the health system, social and mental health services, and environmental management were considered effective
- government services and infrastructure were considered partially effective.
The assessment found that many of the ACT’s climate change adaptation mechanisms are currently addressed somewhat incidentally, and within policies or plans that have other, non-adaptation goals. However, this is being redressed through the first stage of the Government’s Adapting to a changing climate: Directions for the ACT.44 This will provide new opportunities to incorporate adaptation responses into all relevant policies or programs, and to coordinate approaches across the Government.
The ACT’s mitigation responses are beginning to address our emissions requirements. At the same time, we could be realising other significant social and economic benefits of sustainable and equitable development, and recognising the benefits of an effective strategy to increase our community’s and our environment’s resilience to the diverse climate challenges we may face.