Australia: 'Pulling the country backward': WA government fails to imagine a future state - - PressFrom - Australia

Australia 'Pulling the country backward': WA government fails to imagine a future state

01:40  09 november  2019
01:40  09 november  2019 Source:

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Australia has all it needs to be a superpower in a zero-emissions world and Western Australia — more than any other state or territory — could be its powerhouse. If it chooses to be.

The state’s solar potential is mind-blowing. World-class by any measure. As the world seeks to lower its emissions, the economic prospects of West Australian green steel, green hydrogen, and the direct export of electricity overseas put the mining boom to shame.

The state has everything that it needs to not only dramatically reduce emissions, but increase the size of its economy at the same time.

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Its potential has been wasted so far. There is still time to take advantage of it, but not much.

The McGowan government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is encouraging, but the reality is WA’s contribution to climate change is not only growing each year, but accelerating.

Even being generous, the state’s extraordinarily high emissions mean that staying within its fair share of a well below 2 degrees Celsius target, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, would require unprecedented reductions. The state would need to hit zero not in 2050, but in 2035.

This might seem sudden and dramatic. And it is, but only up until you realise that the state has had three decades to act on the warnings of the global scientific community.

In that time, it has done worse than nothing. Between 1990 and 2017 emissions from WA more than doubled.

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For all their faults, at least other states are reducing emissions from electricity. WA isn’t even doing that. Electricity emissions in WA have increased by 50 per cent in a little over a decade.

In its recent climate discussion paper, the McGowan government tries to pin the blame for this difference on ‘reduced economic activity’ in other states.

This is high-grade fiction. On the upside, this proves that the McGowan government has an imagination, but such imagination might be put to better use by building a low-emissions vision for the state.

What has actually happened is that in 11 years, South Australia moved from 0.6 per cent renewable electricity generation to more than 50 per cent; the ACT has driven investment in renewables equivalent to their entire electricity demand – from the start of next year, they will be notionally 100 per cent renewable.

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In the same period, WA moved from 3 per cent to 8 per cent renewable electricity. The economics of renewables have shifted so much in that time that you can’t get such a small change unless you are actively avoiding meeting the emissions reduction challenge.

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The supposed tension between economic growth and environmental protection never amounted to much in a country that stands to lose so much from climate change.

But that shift in the economics of renewables, for the sunniest and windiest inhabited continent on the planet, means economic growth and environmental protection are now on the same side. There is nothing left on the other side of the debate but hot air.

Given how close we are to rushing past dangerous thresholds, we should all be alarmed by Australia’s ever-increasing emissions. But know this: If it weren’t for the western state, Australia’s emissions would be decreasing. They would still be going down too slowly, but the fact remains that WA’s accelerating emissions are enough to pull the whole country backward.

If hot air wins the day, then the state dries out and warms up — particularly in its precious agricultural regions. And then there will be nothing left but the mines.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Another state is possible.

What if the McGowan government had a vision for the future that brought better health and greater long-term prosperity to this astounding state?

To do that, the government would have to seriously engage with emissions reduction. If the contest for steel production is between China and WA using conventional means, WA doesn’t stand a chance.

If the competition is based on emissions — and this is already happening — the prospects for WA sunshine to create WA hydrogen as a feedstock to turn WA iron ore into WA steel are out of this world. This would see the state reduce not only its own emissions, but everyone else’s at the same time.

This is a once-only opportunity for the government to advance a vision that could see WA become the state that turned itself around.

The benefits such a plan would bring are beyond imagination. But apparently, so is the idea that the West Australian government might envision a future state.

Tim Baxter is a senior researcher at the Climate Council.

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