2 Degrees or Better! 

by Kirilly Dickson 5 December 2016


Image: Flickr (Bouissou)

The recent ratification of the Paris Agreement by the Australian Government has created a buzz that appears to be gaining momentum. 

Australian National University Energy Update 

And if last week’s annual Energy Update at the Australian National University (ANU) is anything to go by, we need to, and are ready, to take up the challenge to achieve a zero carbon Australia.

The room was packed with national and international experts, on stage and in the audience, with standing room only for the latecomers. The presentations were empowering and inspiring, if not sometimes a little scary. But in the midst of the gloom, the leaps and bounds of research and policy commitments gave a horizon of hope.  

The day kicked off with Hon Minister Josh Frydenberg providing an overview of the challenges that need to be tackled here and abroad.

Several peaceful protesters voiced concerns that Minister was not true to his Environmental portfolio and had not adequately addressed coal and gas concerns. The Minister highlighted key priority areas: Security and Reliability; Affordability and Access; and Transition to a low carbon economy. Interestingly enough there was no mention of zero carbon Australia.... But with a major policy review set for 2017, fingers are crossed that it will be addressed.

Then we went on to some real climate and energy experts. 

Mr Ian Cronshaw of the International Energy Association provided an overview of the World Energy Outlook (http://ow.ly/M9Vk306NGKV ). Definitely worth a look! The remainder of the day seemed to build on this analysis and reflect globally and locally to connect the puzzle pieces and work out what was missing. 

Image: Flickr (Lawrence Murray)

So where has Paris taken us?

With all the current global pledges in place, it would still appear that we fall short of achieving the 2 degrees goal. 

What is more disheartening is that with all good will there has been minimal investments in oil in recent years which is creating a supply demand debacle that could see a boom in oil prices within two years. This would clearly point to a need to quickly transition away from oil, especially in transport.

But the good news is that there has been a paradigm shift in a year or two in renewable energy development with over $300 billion invested in 2015 worldwide. 

If we continue on this path, we can game change the energy sector quicker than expected. In Australia, several states are committed to 100% renewable energy and pathways to zero (net) emissions including the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), South Australia, Victoria, and probably soon Queensland. 

Together these states represent 75% of Australia’s emissions - so with or without more ambitious goals from the Federal Government, we can still achieve a lot if we maintain strong, consistent and stable policy at the State/Territory level.

Australian Capital Territory - beyond baseline

The ACT example has shown that the journey can be transformed into an economic development opportunity with some smart inclusions in the approach. With increased research and development, establishment of central operations, and development of projects, the renewable journey for the ACT will bring about over $500 million in local economic benefits. These lessons now need to move to other critical elements including energy efficiency and transport.


Image: ACT Government, Actsmart

The journey ahead

But in some ways achieving 100% renewable energy is easy.

Sure we need to incorporate storage and peaking options but the technology is here. The drive for efficiency needs a renewed lens. Solar and wind farms have shorter lifecycles and, with an ever growing Australia, the costs to develop extra energy infrastructure needs to be avoided. Energy efficiency policies need to be integrated with renewable energy policies well beyond 2030.

The Paris Agreement is critical to ensuring the global herd keeps running towards a worthwhile target. And when Australia reviews it national policies in 2017, it should look to set even more detailed and ambitious targets. As noted by Anna Skarbek from Climateworks, (paraphrased) “When firm targets are set and committed to, organisations always seem to overachieve.”

So let’s be brave and overachieve - we can do better than 2 degrees!

For inspiration check out these students from California (http://ow.ly/qtcV306NGsi)

More information at http://ow.ly/IJOo306NMb3 .


Kirilly Dickson is the Executive Officer of the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment.

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