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90% of our energy sourced from renewable wind and solar by 2020

September 22, 2012

From Phoebe Howe, Canberra Loves 40%                                                         

In Australia you could be forgiven for thinking that reducing emissions is a fairytale notion.  Idealistic, something we’d all love, but childish and impossible in reality.   Developments of ACT climate policy are often dismissed as Canberra trying to play with the big kids.  Over the past four years something remarkable has happened in ACT climate change policy.  Yesterday the ACT Government released its long awaited final action plan outlining how the ACT can reach its 40% emissions reduction for the year 2020.  The target, legislated in 2010, leads the country in local jurisdictions aiming to reduce emissions.

Today we have a policy plan, based on strong research, economic modelling and considered planning, that lays out actions to make our 40% target a reality.  With our eyes on this vision, with continued community support, we are so close to realising a solution to our high emissions way of life.  It includes 90% of our energy sourced from renewable wind and solar, 30% of work travel by modes other than the car, and drastically improved energy efficiency in all of our buildings by 2020.  The renewable energy that we create is recognized as additional to any national emissions targets.  No offsets to faraway plantations or gas power required.  This plan effectively reduces the impacts of the way we live for the long term, and will wean us off almighty coal.

With ice caps melting faster than expected and global emissions still rising, it has taken too long.  But it has happened.  This is not the first time an ACT Government has set emissions reductions targets or made climate policy, and many immediately reacted with skepticism.  To many, it is just another example of local politicians trying to leave a political legacy, or win brownie points.  It is another puff of hot air, soon to be forgotten.

This reaction typifies an Australian response to change, reminiscent of the tall poppy syndrome.  Those who try, fail, so why bother?

The only thing standing in the way of achieving our goal is that usual skepticism.  Not the productive critical thinking that makes good policy, but the ‘Tell ‘em they’re dreaming’ fob off that teaches those trying to make change to get back in their box.  We are afraid we are paying a lot for reducing emissions that are a drop in the global emissions ocean.  We are afraid that we’re putting more pressure on our own household budgets when life is already too tight managing a Canberra mortgage.

Investing in reducing our emissions does cost us.  But the investment will make a difference.  Canberra is a fantastic place to live, or so some of us think!  Yet it can be improved.  If you’re sitting in traffic trying to get to work from Gungahlin or Gowrie, or if you live in a drafty pre 1970’s house through our freezing winter nights, Canberra has a lot to work on.  The 40% action plan is an opportunity to face these problems, for the long term.  We can make our city more liveable while reducing our emissions; increasing our energy efficiency means we waste less power, and reduce our bills.  Using public transport, and walking or cycling more, reduces our own petrol costs and medical bills.  Increasing our renewable energy generation creates jobs in a cleaner economy and stimulates fast developing technologies growing cheaper every day.  We know we need to invest in the home so it is equipped for the family as it grows, and we know we need to invest in our city to make sure it works for us into the future.  The longer we wait, the more catching up we’ll have to do, and the greater the cost.  Inaction means a city that fails to plan for smarter, modern lifestyles, and waits to retrofit suburbs when problems like congestion are getting out of control.

Canberra is no Beijing or Mexico City with enormous total emissions.  It is, however, the capital city of the country that leads the world with the highest emissions per person.  Australians’ lifestyles create the largest carbon footprints.  Canberra’s plan is making national headlines, attracting letters of congratulation from across Australia.  Canberra can demonstrate that Australians can live a great lifestyle without that massive impact.  And we can show this carbon-control-shy nation that reducing emissions is nothing to be afraid of.

We are already hearing debates about cost, scoffing that it will never really happen.  Reading through the action plan, every action is qualified; they will only be taken if they measure up to economic expedience and cost of living concerns.  In those qualifications lie the enabler and the barrier we need to address every year as we approach 2020.  This community needs to ask, what will be the cost of living in a city that depends on fossil fuels long after the rest of the world has moved on?   What is the cost of hesitating to act until some other nation or city does?  What is the cost if each city fails to take actions to curb our emissions?  And what other benefits we can reap from investing in each and every measure to reduce our emissions?

To reach this target, our leaders need to hear from those of us who know the importance of overcoming the voices that tell us we’re dreaming.  Achieving our 40% target is possible, and we can afford to take responsibility for our emissions impact.  It just requires the community to continue to ask our leaders to act, to continue to be willing to invest in our future.  It requires the community to continue to acknowledge that the climate is changing and we must, too.

We have eight years to meet our 40% target, a target that reflects the best science, a target that responds to the reality of the problem rather than what is politically expedient. We now have an alternative to ignoring a problem that seems intractable.  We can hold our leaders to account and every year call for the next step on the pathway.  We can be proud of our city and our future.

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