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State Govt commits to zero emissions by 2050

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The State Government will commit to reducing SA’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050 but has rejected a recommendation from its climate change panel to introduce a state-based emissions trading scheme.

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The State Government today released the final report from its Low Carbon Economy Expert Panel, which recommends the state more than halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and become a net zero emitter by 2050.

The panel, led by economist and former federal Liberal leader John Hewson, also recommends the introduction of a South Australian emissions trading scheme, to link with a similar scheme in California, and a move to 100 per cent renewable electricity generation in SA.

The panel recommends sweeping changes to cut carbon emissions, including mandating solar panels on all new houses, financial incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars, promoting new industries in carbon sequestration and alternative renewables and aiming to attract an electric vehicle manufacturer to SA.

“Establishing a South Australian ETS with a California linkage would provide clarity and predictability for South Australia’s industry, put South Australia in a clear leadership position among Australia’s states and territories and send a powerful signal internationally,” the report says.

“A link with South Australia could be politically and economically attractive to California, and provide significant benefits for South Australia … more than 20 subnational government already use carbon pricing mechanisms or are planning to implement them.

“Political uncertainty over climate change policy has stood in the way of effective and efficient action to reduce emissions in Australia.

“This has included a protracted process to design a carbon price or emissions trading scheme.”

According to the authors, net revenue from such a scheme would flow to South Australia and “revenue received by the South Australian government could be used to support the low carbon transition and for the overall benefit of the South Australian budget”.

Environment Minister Ian Hunter said earlier this year that a state-based scheme “might be a reasonable option for us” if the Federal Government was “adamant” against implementing a national ETS.

But he and Premier Jay Weatherill later backed away from the comments.

Today, Hunter said the government would not be supporting a South Australian ETS, expressing confidence that “consensus for global action on climate change should be a trigger for the Federal Government to revisit the important issue of a nationwide ETS”.

“We believe this is the most practical approach to this question and will not seek to implement an ETS at the state level,” he said.

Weatherill said accepting the 2050 target would give South Australia a competitive advantage.

“As we head towards the Paris Climate Change Conference, South Australia has an opportunity to place itself at the forefront as a leader in transitioning to a low carbon economy,” Weatherill said.

“The Expert Panel’s report is a roadmap for our State to reduce emissions in a way that supports job growth in new and emerging green technologies.”

The expert panel also recommends:

The report describes job losses from the closure of Alinta’s Leigh Creek coal mine and Port Augusta power station as “difficult for the state”, but that “the fact that this is happening now … means that the transition to a low carbon economy can come sooner and with lower opportunity costs”.

It says the closures would “give the state an opportunity to transition more quickly to a greater share of renewable energy and greater national grid integration”.

There would be “significant economic, social and environment benefits for South Australia” in accepting the target of 100 per cent emissions reduction by 2050, including “more livable cities, better energy productivity, improved land and biodiversity management and new industries and jobs”.

“South Australia’s transition to a decarbonised economy now will position the state to prosper in a carbon constrained global economy,” the report says.

Moving early to decarbonise the economy would also give the state “a competitive advantage” and position it as a “low carbon powerhouse and a net exporter of renewable energy”.

According to the authors, decarbonising the economy “can help South Australia during its period of economic transition as it requires an emphasis on IT, innovation, research and development … and the retention of a highly skilled workforce”.

According to the report, South Australia had already reduced its emissions by nine per cent between 1989 and 2012, yet the state’s economy has grown by around 60 per cent, “demonstrating that economic growth can be decoupled from growth in greenhouse emissions”.

“South Australia could achieve a 56 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and a net zero (100 per cent) reduction by 2050,” the report says.

The panel’s confidence in the targets draws from a study by the Australian National University and Climate works Australia that “found that Australia could move to net zero emissions by 2050 while retaining economic prosperity”.

“South Australia can greatly expand its renewable energy generation, to the point where on balance over the year all of the state’s electricity comes from renewables and a significant amount is exported interstate.”

This year, just over 40 per cent of the state’s electricity generation was renewable.

The report warns, however, that the strength of wind and solar power renewable energy generation in South Australia could threaten to muscle out emerging energy generation technologies that could help give consistency to the variable output of electricity that comes from wind and solar, including geothermal generation.

A decarbonised South Australian economy could also have benefits for city living, the report says, resulting in a reduction of urban sprawl and “compact, connected and coordinated urban development”.

“[A] more compact city can also be more economically dynamic, with a correlation between geographic density and productivity,” it says.

“Decarbonised, more compact cities … provide greater opportunities for social inclusion, with functionally and socially mixed neighbourhoods and walkable local urban environments” and “low income households benefit from reduced transport and energy costs, and enhanced access to jobs”.

The authors conceded that a “key assumption” of their report is that there would be “binding international policies to support the delivery of carbon pollution abatement to limit global warming to less that two [degrees centigrade]”.

But they were confident that “the commitment to a 2 [degrees temperature rise maximum] outcome has proved solid and is expected to guide global climate policy in the future”.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that to achieve the 2 [degrees] goal, emissions from developed countries will need to fall to near zero during this century,” the report says.

The release of the report comes as Weatherill and Hunter prepare fly out for the Paris Climate Summit next week.

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