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Paris Climate Deal: States in poll position while Feds struggle with climate response

The Paris Conference has exceeded expectations by achieving universal agreement to limit global warming to 2C, and striving for a stronger target of 1.5C. The increased ambition on the international stage has implications for policymakers in Australia who must now ramp up programs to cut carbon—and fast.

While the Turnbull government slowly steers climate policy out of the doldrums of the Abbott era, it will be the states and territories that can act with haste.

South Australia and the ACT are the national leaders when it comes to climate. For example, both have aggressive Renewable Energy Targets and are positioning to decarbonise their economies. Yet with South Australia and ACT programs already in effect, it’s Victoria where the next round of climate policy reform can be delivered.

Before we take a look at opportunities for Victoria, let’s explore the programs that have put South Australia and ACT at the front of the pack.

In the lead up to the Paris COP, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announced his government’s commitment for the state to be zero net emissions and entirely powered by renewable energy by 2050.

South Australia’s recent commitments come on the back of an aggressive rollout of renewable energy over the last decade. The state is leading the country with renewable energy penetration. Some 40 percent of its generation capacity now comes from wind farms and roodtop solar, and it’s on track to hit 50 percent renewables next year—ten years earlier than expected.

Premier Weatherill also wants to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector, flagging electric vehicles as an opportunity to revive Adelaide’s auto manufacturers.

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ACT Minister for Environment, Simon Corbell

ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell has grasped the position of leadership that rests upon states and territories. Corbell says sub-national governments can “deliver real climate change reduction by filling the gaps left by shortcomings in national commitments.”

Like South Australia, the ACT’s chief climate change policy is an aggressive Renewable Energy Target of 90 percent renewables by 2020, and 100 percent by 2025. The ACT is using an efficient system of reverse auctions to rollout wind farms and large-scale solar installations. And, importantly, the renewable energy projects it contracts are additional to those that would be built under the Federal RET scheme.

Minister Corbell will soon announce a new round of solar tenders and the winners of the second round of wind energy auctions. Like Premier Weatherill, Corbell has expressed a desire to attract the emergent electric vehicles sector to the capital to reduce transport-related emissions.

It’s with policies like these that South Australia and the ACT were able to stand alongside California as leaders on climate change and renewable energy at Paris. In a competitive environment, both are positioning themselves as focal points for renewable energy investment, research, and talent.

Victoria is not yet able to claim the same mantle, but can learn from their successes.

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Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews

The Andrews government has shown early signs of leadership on renewable energy and climate change. The government quickly repealed the worst aspects of the Bailleu-era anti-wind farm laws.

In August, the Andrews government announced its Renewable Energy Roadmap and committed to set Victorian Renewable Energy Targets for 2020 and 2025—including a baseline target of at least 20 percent by 2020. The final targets will be early in 2016 when its Renewable Energy Action Plan is released.

The Roadmap included some notable appetisers: A $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund and a commitment to purchase 100MW worth of renewable energy certificates from new wind farms built in Victoria.

There are signals the Andrews government is gearing up for more renewable energy ambition. It has made changes to allow homeowners to enter lease agreements for rooftop solar, and is kicking off a program to support community-owned renewable energy projects.

Competing with the likes of South Australia and the ACT, the Andrews government will have to send a strong signal that Victoria is an ideal place to invest. The current baseline target of at least 20 percent by 2020 falls short of that goal.

Through increasing the ambition of Victorian Renewable Energy Targets and adopting a proven mechanism to grow renewables – perhaps emulating the ACT’s successful reverse auctions model – the Andrews government can attract the investment needed to drive decarbonisation. (Even Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt encourages state governments to use reverse auctions to grow renewables).

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While PM Turnbull and his allies struggle to turn around national climate and renewable energy policy, it’ll be up to the states to ramp up action on climate change and renewable energy.

With South Australia and ACT the first cabs of the rank, all eyes will be on Victoria as it embarks on its own emissions reduction journey. The Renewable Energy Action Plan will be a test for how serious the Andrews government takes its climate change responsibilities.

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