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Only the centre-right can tackle climate change in SA

Opinion

Ignoring ideological symbolism and gestures to focus on real, practical measures in environmental and climate change policy is the only way forward, argues state environment minister David Speirs.

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The Marshall Liberal Government has put climate change at the heart of our work.

We know how important a healthy natural environment is to South Australians, perhaps more now than ever before. The summer bushfires, drought, and the continual battle for the River Murray, have no doubt enhanced our concern and piqued a desire to see sustained and meaningful environmental action. This is not a new approach, South Australia has a good record in conservation, but now is the time to turbocharge our response.

When I asked the Premier if he’d appoint me to the environment portfolio, I knew the challenges ahead. I inherited a department that was struggling for purpose, fawned over symbolism and had its budget halved since the Global Financial Crisis.

Key to our government’s platform is to leave behind symbolism and gestures, while focusing relentlessly on practical outcomes. This means more trees in the ground, increased rangers in our parks, focused strategies to rescue fragile species from extinction, mature negotiations on the River Murray, an Australian-first ban on single use plastics, record spending on waste management infrastructure, millions invested in the viability of our fragile coastline, and the new Glenthorne National Park which will transform the liveability of Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

But it is in the area of climate change that we have pitched a determined ambition. South Australia’s climate trajectory has been well-positioned since the days of the Rann Government, with our investment in renewables driving a path towards significantly lower emissions. Since coming to power our Government has focused on grid stability and storage, including the world’s largest per capita home battery subsidy scheme, which together will enable us to reach net-100% renewables in a decade and around 75% as early as 2023. This is an enviable trajectory.

South Australia is committed to a net zero emissions (on 2005 levels) by 2050. Again this is an admirable goal, but the State Government has recognised that such a distant target is of little practical use and can lull us into a false sense of security, giving leaders the option of excusing present-day action for hopeful technological solutions to pop up 20 years from now. I have no doubt that innovation will lead to new ways to reduce emissions in the coming years, but to rely on this would be an abrogation of leadership.

This is why we have established a 2030 interim target. South Australia’s goal will now be to reduce emissions to 50 per cent by 2030. This is an ambitious target and one which will need political, business and community leadership.

Of course, South Australia won’t stop the world’s climate from changing. The international trajectory is worrying and we must invest in adaption strategies to ensure that our environment has the resilience to cope with inevitable change.

Adaptation isn’t as sexy as dramatic emissions reductions, but it is no less important.

And we can certainly walk and chew gum.

For South Australia adaptation means greening the streets to provide cooling shade in the face of warming summers. Our new urban greening body, Green Adelaide, will work alongside local councils to fund ambitious street planting programs to counter the urban heat island effect.

Adaptation also means investment in coastal environments to protect against rising sea levels. The Marshall Liberal Government’s $52 million investment in our coasts will secure the future of Adelaide’s beaches, recycling sand around our beaches in a way which will restore sand dunes and massively increase coastal resilience.

A few months ago, I met with representatives of the Youth Climate strikers who – characteristic of the Left – found the idea of adaptation superfluous. That’s because admitting that change is inevitable doesn’t fit with the righteous battles of the Left. They would rather march in the streets and decry the efforts of governments as not enough. Time will tell if they are enough, but I believe our efforts in this area are substantial and nation-leading.

The impotence of the Left was further demonstrated earlier this month when State Labor’s Deputy Leader penned an uber-woke opinion piece for InDaily. The usual fluff and guff, but bereft of strategic policy options or practical initiatives.

Last year I had the pleasure of speaking at the South Australian launch of Professor Ross Garnaut’s book, Super-power. Australia’s Low Carbon Opportunity. Despite the complexities of the renewables industry and the challenges that climate change presents, the premise of the book is relatively straightforward: that Australia’s abundance of sun and wind, combined with the modernity of our economy and our penchant for innovation, positions us to take advantage of the world’s dramatically increasing appetite for low (or no) carbon products.

Now Professor Garnaut has taken the premise of his book and provided the South Australian government with advice and insight specific to our state. The report, received this week, is a strong endorsement of South Australia’s work, but it rightly warns us not to rest on our laurels and to use the global shake up triggered by COVID-19 to push harder, embedding the business opportunities flowing from emissions reduction and community adaptation at the heart of our recovery.

In 2020, of all Australia’s states, South Australia is the best positioned to do exactly this. We have:

The appointment of Martin Haese as Chair of the Premier’s Climate Change Council has enabled business know-how to be placed at the heart of our climate thinking and I know that business is hungry to get involved.

There is no doubt that South Australia has massive advantages when it comes to reducing emissions and adapting to inevitable rising temperatures, but our government will rise to the occasion. We will listen to Professor Garnaut’s advice and we will work to create a business environment which drives market-led opportunities. We have plenty of work to do, but our initial focus must be on:

Rather than being wedded to an ideological anchor, the Marshall Liberal Government is getting on with delivering for our environment – and at the very heart of that is tackling climate change.

The challenge is great, but the opportunities are immense and as Professor Garnaut confirms, we have our house in order.

David Speirs is Environment and Water Minister in the Marshall Government.

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