Copenhagen: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
It’s snowing here in Copenhagen, as leaders feel the heat over climate change.
In the winter gloom, the flashing lights of police motorcades snake through the city. Is it Obama, Gordon Brown, or Kevin Rudd? It’s certainly not the President of the tiny, vulnerable Maldives, the shock troops of rising sea levels.
Walkouts by developing nations, angry clashes between protesters and police, people dressed as polar bears, Greenpeace ships moored in the canal not far from The Little Mermaid statue, business leaders selling wind power, electric vehicles, even shoes with recycled rubber soles.
A circus? A tale by Hans Christian Andersen? Maybe, but there’s more than one conference taking place here in Copenhagen, and one of them has already reached agreement, struck a deal and got developed and developing regions working co-operatively together rather than sniping at each other.
I’m attending and co-chairing the Conference of State and Regional leaders brought together by the Climate Group, an international non-government organisation with great links to business as well as governments.
A year ago we met in Poznan, Poland. Rather than issue another bland, aspirational statement expressing concern about a world in peril, each regional leader in Poznan committed to ambitious, verifiable targets to increase renewable energy production and to lower emissions.
Importantly, each of us also committed to support and mentor a region in the developing world to help them with their climate change strategies.
South Australia is working closely with our region’s newest nation, East Timor.
So why are states, regions and provinces so important? It’s because between 50 and 80 per cent of decisions affecting climate change are made at regional level.
So what came out of our meeting in Copenhagen?
For a start, we collectively committed to planting one billion trees by 2015. This will remove hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Rapid deforestation is a cancer on the lungs of our planet. We must do more than slow it down. We have to commit to re-afforestation.
Our conference also unanimously called on the world leaders meeting being held down the road to commit to planting one tree for every person on the planet. By my count, that’s around 6.8 billion trees.
It’s still not enough, but such a commitment would be a tangible endowment - or “green dividend” - from the Copenhagen COP15 summit.
We also dealt with issues ranging from building efficiency to the rollout of electric vehicles, clean energy technologies and, of course, renewable energy.
So what is my State doing to put its money where its mouth is on climate change? Between the Poznan and Copenhagen summits, South Australia committed to matching California’s target of producing 33 per cent of our power from renewables by 2020.
That’s a big, but achievable, ask for a State that has no hydro-electric power. We are well on our way, with SA home to around 50 per cent of Australia’s wind power, 93 per cent of the nation’s geothermal development, and a clear lead in solar power.
We were the first to introduce solar feed-in laws to increase the take-up of rooftop solar panels, and in 2007 we passed greenhouse gas reduction legislation that includes voluntary agreements with industry sectors that are committed to reducing their carbon footprints.
The first cab off the rank was our wine industry, and many other sectors and even individual companies are signing up. They know it’s smart business, as well as being good for the environment.
The SA government is, itself, a big purchaser of electricity to power our hospitals, schools and government buildings. So by 2014, 50 per cent of this electricity will come from renewable sources. Even our new $1.8 billion desalination plant will be totally powered by renewable energy.
And we are investing $2 billion in public transport to vastly improve our suburban rail and tram network.
In Copenhagen this week, I have also announced a round of new initiatives. Every new State Government building will be mandated to have solar power systems plugged in from the middle of next year. In an Australian first, we will also rebate payroll tax for new renewable energy projects that are established in South Australia.
This initiative attracted considerable interest from business leaders in Copenhagen, and I have invited them to attend the CleverGreen Conference and Showcase being held in Adelaide next February.
We’re also getting tough with power-hungry appliances. For us, the villains are inefficient air conditioners that cause a massive hike in power consumption on our hottest days, which are becoming increasingly frequent. Some of these models represent the worst possible deals for consumers, who then face enormous power bills. So we’re introducing Australia’s toughest standards from next July, and the worst offending models will be banned from sale.
Instead of talk, we’re taking action. And it was clear from our meeting in Copenhagen that, around the world, state and regional governments are often way ahead of their national counterparts. In Australia, there couldn’t be a sharper division at the national level with the climate change deniers now in charge of the Opposition.
This fact, and the defeat of the Emissions Trading Bill in the Senate, has been highlighted repeatedly here in Copenhagen.
But we wish our leaders well. The bottom line is we want them to agree to commit to ambitious targets, so that average global temperatures rise by no more than two degrees.
We want it to continue to snow in the Danish capital.
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