The Victorian Labor government has licence to take bold and ambitious action on climate change.
New polling commissioned by The Australia Institute has uncovered a high degree of community acceptance of the urgency of the climate crisis as well as support for rapidly cutting emissions.
The poll's findings should embolden the Andrews Labor government which has less than a year to set the state's first interim Emissions Reduction Targets (for 2025 and 2030).
The Australia Institute polling found a massive 69 percent of Victorians polled agreed "we need strong government action to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transform Australia's economy to one that is zero-carbon."
Six in ten respondents thought "Australia is facing a climate change emergency and should take emergency action," with over half of respondents (53%) agreeing that "governments should mobilise all of society to tackle climate change, like they mobilised everyone during the world wars."
A finding that will disappoint the Murdoch press (as it will be a 'go-to' talking point for right-wing commentators), fewer than three in ten Victorians thought that "what Australia does on climate change will make no difference." It seems the overwhelming majority hold the common-sense view that all countries must put their shoulder to the wheel to tackle the climate crisis.
In terms of specific climate solutions, 73 percent back an end to native forest logging and reforestation; 67 percent support the rapid transition to 100 percent renewables; and 64 percent want research into zero-carbon industry and agriculture.
Poll numbers like this give the Andrews government licence to take bold and ambitious action on climate change in this term of government.
Friends of the Earth analysis featured in The Age found that Victoria will miss the legislated 2050 target of zero-net emissions by over a decade without science-based emissions cuts in the short- to mid-term. (Indeed, the state must achieve zero-net emissions as soon as possible to limit warming to below 1.5C and uphold public commitments it has made to this objective).
The Australia Institute polling is also instructive about options available to the government for reining in emissions.
Victoria is home to the world's most carbon-dense forests. Logging our greatest asset for drawing down carbon makes no sense in the age of climate change. Allowing native-forest logging to continue increases the difficulty of meeting the state’s target of zero-net emissions enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2017.
The Andrews government can harness the strong public support by protecting our precious native forests, delivering a transition plan for forest workers, and make inroads into cutting emissions from the land-use sector.
Ramping up Renewables
Victoria is the place to be for renewable energy. With the popular Victorian Renewable Energy Target creating jobs across the state and Solar Homes Program delivering cheaper power bills, public support for a rapid transition to 100 percent renewables comes as no surprise.
Victoria's Renewable Energy Targets currently stand at 25 percent by 2020; 40 percent by 2025; and 50 percent by 2030. Ratcheting up the targets to 100 percent is a smart way for the government to rein in emissions while creating thousands of jobs and attracting investment. It would also boost flagship projects such as the Star of the South offshore wind farm.
The Australian Capital Territory is on the cusp of achieving its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Could Victoria be the first big state to reach that milestone?
Zero-Carbon Industry & Agriculture
The direct combustion of fossil fuels for manufacturing and industry and greenhouse gases generated from agriculture are major contributors to Victoria's emissions footprint. Strong support for large publicly funded research into zero-carbon industry and agriculture indicates the growing literacy about the drivers of climate change among the community.
Minister for Jobs, Innovation, and Trade Martin Pakula and Minister Jaclyn Symes (emerging as a climate champion within cabinet) can look to the work of Melbourne-based think tank Beyond Zero Emissions for ways to cut emissions in industry-related and agriculture portfolios.
The transport sector is the second largest and fastest growing source of emissions. It will take the broad scale electrification of the vehicle fleet and public transport as well as successful modal shift to cut emissions in the sector.
Three of five Victorians support a shift to electric vehicles. Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan can leverage the support to rollout electric vehicle charging stations and accelerate uptake.
Importantly, electric vehicles mustn’t be used as an excuse for failing to invest in mass transit infrastructure. The Andrews government’s Melbourne Metro I subway expansion comes after decades of historical underinvestment in public transport. A commitment to build Melbourne Metro II immediately after the completion of the first tunnel will create a pipeline of jobs while the more ambitious Suburban Rail Loop is designed.
Finally, when it comes to mass transit, Victoria needs a plan to substitute polluting coal power and diesel with renewables. The Andrews government has already repowered the tram network with solar. It can do the same with the electrified rail network and kick off an urgent investigation into the best substitutes for regional trains and the bus fleet.
The Victorian government is in the box seat when it comes to climate action. The decisions it makes during this term of government will set the pace of emissions cuts nationally. With time running out to avoid runaway climate change, it's time for Labor to lead.