The Andrews government has announced its long-awaited and highly-anticipated interim Emissions Reduction Targets. It committed to reduce emissions by 28-33 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 45-50 percent by 2030.
Friends of the Earth and allies campaigned to secure science-based climate targets for Victoria since 2017.
We were pushing for a world-leading cut of 75 percent by 2030—a target that scientists say is necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C—and ended up with a commitment to halve Victoria's emissions over the next decade.
While the 2030 target adopted by the Andrews government was not what we were calling for, it is a significant outcome for national climate policy and politics. Here’s why.
Firstly, the Andrews government’s announcement shows that climate policy is now the mainstream business of government.
With all the challenges facing the state government over the last year (i.e: the response to the pandemic and economic recovery) and despite the lack of political pressure from the opposition, Victorian Labor did the work to meet its legislated commitments on climate.
This appears to be a policy announcement which is widely ‘owned’ within government, which means that future action on climate becomes more likely. Cabinet Ministers and backbench MPs are proud of the announcement and are actively promoting it on their social media channels (for example).
This mainstreaming process means that, in Victoria, advocates can now focus on shaping government policy rather than devoting time towards getting the government to act in the first place.
Secondly, Victorian Minister for Climate Lily D’Ambrosio has built a policy consensus between industry and the union movement that supports a reduction of up to 50 percent by 2030—and that’s with a Federal government that’s doing everything it can to sabotage progress. Both the Australian Industry Group and Victorian Trades Hall Council have supported the announcement.
The Minister’s political achievement should not be underestimated. By demonstrating that an Emissions Reduction Target of 45-50 percent is the mainstream position, Victoria’s climate commitment will rattle the Morrison government and buoy the Australian Labor Party who have previously committed to a reductions target of that scale.
Thirdly, the fact that Victoria’s targets are double what the Federal government is prepared to do intensifies pressure on the Prime Minister ahead of the critically-important COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
ClimateWorks analysis finds that Australia could easily beat its meagre Emissions Reduction Target of 26-28 percent after Victoria's announcement. National emissions would fall by 37 percent over the decade if the states and territories deliver their targets.
The Prime Minister’s failure to deliver increased national ambition at COP26 would be an affront to state and territory governments who are stepping up on climate, as well as global players such as the United States, Japan, European Union, and the United Kingdom. With carbon border tariffs on the table, low ambition will have serious economic consequences and leave Australia isolated.
So, what to make of the climate movement’s response to the announcement?
Like the COVID-19 pandemic, responses to the climate crisis must be judged on how well they align to the best-available science.
In 2020, Chief Health Officers became household names as the public tuned in to briefings on how to respond to the public health crisis. The absence of an independent and trusted voice on climate policy has created a void and it has been filled by the environment movement.
If groups like Friends of the Earth weren't there to insist that climate policies reflect the best-available science, then who would?
Advocates can appreciate and acknowledge the political significance of the Labor government’s commitment while highlighting the gap that exists between what has been announced and what science says is needed to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.
The next steps for the movement are clear.
At the national level it will be to challenge the Federal government to match or beat the targets adopted by Victoria and the United States in the build up to COP26. And to hold it to account if it fails to deliver.
Here in Victoria, the movement must engage with the Victorian opposition. The Labor government has acted on climate. It’s time for the opposition to put their cards on the table.
The Liberal party will need a credible climate policy to have any chance of winning the progressive inner-city seats needed for it to form government. Opposition leader Michael O’Brien has distanced himself from the climate obstructionism of Angus Taylor. Will he be the Liberal leader to get the job done?
Transition of the energy system is inevitable and is gathering pace, but must take into account justice and the imperative for rapid change.
The Andrews government needs to clearly articulate its plan to transition the three remaining coal-burning power stations to renewables and storage. Through major policy initiatives like the Victorian Renewable Energy Target, Renewable Energy Zones, and Latrobe Valley Authority, the government is well positioned to deliver a fast and fair transition.
As it implements ‘sectoral pledges’ to achieve the targets, it will become increasingly apparent that the government must stop making poor investment decisions such as public funding for toll roads and subsidies for native forest logging—the protection of which is so important for carbon drawdown. Modernising the budget to align the government spending more closely with its climate agenda is a new priority.
As for the next breakthrough on climate policy and politics: It will occur when the environment movement is brought into the consensus. And that can only happen when there’s strong alignment between climate targets and the science.