Paper to Greenhouse 2015 Conference: Atmosphere, Oceans and Air
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
Good morning. It is a pleasure to speak today at the GREENHOUSE 2015 conference.
Today I would like to discuss the broad international context for climate change action as we countdown to Paris, how Australia is playing its part with our policies to cut domestic emissions, and how scientific research will continue to be incorporated into our approach going forward.
1. Action on climate change
1.1 Paris Conference
The countries of the world are preparing for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December. Climate change is a global problem, so we are working closely with other countries towards an agreement that covers all countries, especially the major emitters.
At home, Australia is playing our part.
We have announced we will take to Paris a pledge to reduce emissions to between 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Our target is in line with the actions being taken by other countries like the United States, the European Union, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
Meeting this target will require real effort. It will require that Australia halves its emissions per capita, and reduce by two-thirds its emissions intensity. Australia’s 50-52 per cent reduction in emissions per capita is the largest reduction of any major developed nation.
I am committed to strong global action on climate change, and to keeping global warming to 2 degrees. Australia must do our fair share to meet this objective.
Innovation and technology, driven by science and research, will enable Australia to achieve economic growth and prosperity alongside emissions reduction.
This Government has proven that we can reduce emissions at a low cost and without increasing the cost of doing business and the cost of living.
1.2 We will meet and beat our targets
Earlier this year the Department of Environment confirmed that Australia’s abatement challenge between now and 2020 is 236 million tonnes.
I am confident Australia will meet and beat our 2020 target. That fact is rarely disputed now, although only 6 months ago critics claimed it could never be done.
We will achieve this target through practical environmentalism – measures that boost productivity, reduce costs, increase technology uptake and improve the environment.
1.3 Emissions Reduction Fund
The $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and its safeguard mechanism will remain the centrepiece.
The Emissions Reduction Fund is a policy that is appropriate to Australia’s economy, geography, and national circumstances. It provides positive incentives for the community and businesses to reduce emissions in ways that lower energy use and input costs and increase productivity.
And it is already achieving results. At its first auction in April this year, 107 projects were contracted to deliver 47 million tonnes of abatement at a price of $13.95 per tonne. These cover projects across the forestry, waste, agriculture and transport sectors.
Compare this with the carbon tax, which in two years only reduced emissions by less than 12 million tonnes, at over $1,300 per tonne.
The Emissions Reduction Fund delivers real outcomes by focusing on positive support for emissions reduction.
And the first auction is only the beginning.
On 4-5 November, the Clean Energy Regulator will conduct the second Emissions Reduction Fund auction.
There is strong interest. Five hundred projects are already registered. I am confident of another stellar result.
These are practical projects, on the ground, reducing emissions – reforestation, avoided deforestation, savannah burning.
In short, we have created a carefully crafted, pure market-based mechanism which has already achieved its objective of generating emissions reductions.
More ways of taking part in the Emissions Reduction Fund are being developed to cover agriculture, commercial buildings, industrial energy efficiency, coal mining, oil and gas, waste, small energy users, avoided land clearing and fertiliser use efficiency.
The ERF model is being adopted and embraced overseas as an effective way to cut emissions. The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, the World Bank Pilot Auction Facility and a model being considered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) all involve the purchase of emissions reduction at lowest cost.
1.4 Safeguard mechanism
An important element of the Emissions Reduction Fund is the safeguard mechanism. Now finalised after extensive consultation, the safeguard mechanism is designed to ensure that emissions reductions purchased by the Government are not offset by significant rises in emissions above business-as-usual levels elsewhere in the economy.
It does this by setting an emissions limit on Australia’s largest emitters in a way that supports economic growth and allows businesses to grow while encouraging best practice.
The safeguard mechanism will cover the largest-emitting facilities in the economy that emit 100,000 tonnes or more of emissions. Around 140 businesses will be covered to ensure we safeguard emission reductions while minimising unnecessary red tape for small businesses.
We’ve got a system which is reducing emissions. The World Bank has just adopted the equivalent of an Emissions Reduction Fund – their Pilot Auction Facility.
It’s funded by the United States and Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. It uses the very same type of model of purchasing emissions reductions.
These policies, complemented by the Renewable Energy Target and the National Energy Productivity Plan, will be the cornerstone of Australia’s emissions reduction efforts out to 2030 and beyond.
While we have a very clear approach, Bill Shorten and Labor do not. With an election likely less than 12 months from now, we still do not know what Labor’s mechanism is for combating climate change, how much it will cost and how much electricity prices will rise.
Rather than take a constructive approach to dealing with the challenges of climate change, Labor prefers to criticise a policy that is actually achieving substantial results.
2 Renewable energy
2.1 Office of Climate Change and Renewables Innovation
The Government has a strong suite of policies to meet our emission reduction targets. To better integrate these policies, promote innovation, attract investment and get the best value for taxpayers, I have created the Office of Climate Change and Renewables Innovation within my Department.
The Office brings together the Clean Energy Regulator, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Climate Change Authority and the climate change and renewable energy functions from my Department.
The Office will bring a fresh focus to the role of innovation to support emerging renewable and low-emissions technologies that will drive down emissions. The Office will also drive the direction of climate and renewables research in Australia.
Maximising these resources within the Office provides opportunities to leverage investments. The combined resources of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the Emissions Reduction Fund will provide around $15 billion of support for clean technology and innovation. This is in addition to the support provided by the RET.
2.2 Investment in renewables and innovation
Innovation and technology are at the heart of how we can reduce emissions and reduce electricity prices.
That’s why we’re investing in renewable technologies and innovation.
Tomorrow I’m going to visit the Maritime Hydrodynamics Research laboratory which is housing part of a wave modelling project supported by ARENA, which is part of an emerging industry turning ocean swells into power.
2.3 The National Energy Productivity Plan
When we announced our 2030 emissions reduction target, the Government confirmed that action would be taken to deliver a 40 per cent decrease in the amount of energy used per unit of GDP between 2015 and 2030.
The National Energy Productivity Plan will include measures to make energy choices easier and will encourage improvements in the efficiency of appliances, equipment, buildings and transport. It will support and encourage businesses to show leadership in improving energy productivity.
The plan will encourage innovative efforts by government and businesses, and will see the development and application of new technologies that deliver more efficient, lower-cost energy services for consumers. We all know that working smarter by doing more with our energy makes good economic sense and good environmental sense.
2.4 Renewable Energy Target
In addition to the National Energy productivity Plan, the Renewable Energy Target (RET) also forms an important part of the Government’s plan to cut emissions and will support a strong and sustainable renewable energy sector.
The contribution of renewable energy to our overall energy mix is rising. Renewable energy generation has almost doubled as a result of the RET scheme. Today, renewables contribute around 14 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation. This will rise to 23.5 per cent by 2020 under the RET.
Such a marked increase will be a significant factor in transforming our energy mix, and make a strong contribution to meeting our five per cent emissions reduction target in 2020. This is a major challenge – one which the renewable sector is determined to meet.
We are entering a period of unprecedented opportunity for renewable energy. Advances in technology will play a major part in progressing the renewable agenda in the years ahead. I am excited to see what the future holds and I am confident that Australians will lead the way with creative and innovative solutions.
3. Australian climate change research
Policies must be informed by robust science - and that is what this week’s GREENHOUSE 2015 is all about.
Science plays a critical role in supporting and informing environmental policies for Australia.
3.1 National Environmental Science Programme (NESP)
Last year the Government confirmed its long-term commitment to environment and climate research with funding of $142.5 million over six years for the National Environmental Science Programme (the NESP).
The programme will assist decision-makers to understand, manage and conserve Australia’s environment by funding world-class biodiversity and climate science. The research performed under NESP will ensure decisions about managing Australia’s biodiversity and environmental resources are made using the best available information.
In addition, over $5 million was provided this financial year for the final year of the long standing Australian Climate Change Science Program (the ACCSP). Since 1989 the ACCSP has been providing decision makers with world-class research on the causes, nature, timing and consequences of climate change. ACCSP research and science has been crucial in helping us understand Australia’s climate; what it will be like in the future and how best to prepare.
The ACCSP will be integrated into the new National Environmental Science Programme in July next year to allow greater cohesion between environmental and climate science and to better address priorities under the Government’s Plan for a Cleaner Environment.
The NESP is made up of six collaborative research hubs; the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, the Tropical Water Quality Hub, the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub and the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub and the Marine Biodiversity Hub.
Later today I will be announcing details of work to be undertaken by the Marine Biodiversity Hub – which will be based in Hobart and be headed by Professor Nic Bax from the University of Tasmania.
However, this morning I would like to take the opportunity to outline the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub.
3.2 NESP Earth System and Climate Change Hub
The Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub will be receive $23.9 million over six years, and aims to: improve our observations and understanding of past and current climate; better understand how the climate system may change in the future; and build the utility of Earth Systems and Climate Change information, including enhancement of Australia’s national capability in Earth system and climate modelling.
The Hub will provide invaluable information for decision makers and planners in understanding current and future climate risks.
I understand that a large number of ACCSP and NESP researchers are in the audience today, and I thank you for your efforts to date, and your continuing efforts in the future, in assisting Australia to better understand the environmental challenges posed by climate change.
3.3 Key role of Australia in international climate research
The NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub represents a strong Australian research effort on climate change. Australian climate change research plays a key role in international climate research and contributes to a global understanding on climate change and its impacts.
Around 40 Australian scientists recently contributed to the development of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. This represents an outstanding level of Australian contribution and highlights the key role that Australian researchers play in international climate efforts.
Australia’s strong engagement and contribution to international climate research and initiatives (such as the World Climate Programme, the Global Climate Observing System and the Future Earth Initiative) allows Australia to access international data, information and expertise which we wouldn’t otherwise have access to – this leverages significant return for Australia.
Without a strong Australian climate change research effort, data and information about Southern Hemisphere climate and processes would be under represented in global findings. This would reduce understanding of global climate processes and the accuracy of global datasets and international climate modelling and projections efforts.
3.4 Australian Antarctic research
Australia’s cooperation with the Antarctic community on Antarctic climate research provides another great example of the importance of international collaboration to progress research aims.
The Australian Antarctic Science Programme is at the forefront of Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research efforts. It is a strategic, well-targeted, integrated national programme that allows us to play a key role in the global effort to understand Antarctica’s role in global climate and address the challenges of climate change.
Antarctic research is important because it enables us to better understand Australia’s weather and climate. Ice core studies in Antarctic have helped scientists understand the links between Antarctica climate and Australia’s climate. For example, ice core research has shown that a significant link exists between increased snowfall in parts of Antarctic and reduced southwest Western Australia rainfall, particularly through the drought in recent decades. Such information provides tools for researchers to predict future climate trends for Australia.
The Australian Government has a long term commitment to continue Australia’s international leadership in Antarctic scientific research. This is reflected in the Governments support for the 20 Year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan and investment in a new icebreaker.
Just last week we heralded the start of the new Antarctic science and operations season, so we wish our researchers well on their endeavours as they travel south.
3.5 Climate information to support adaptation
Finally, I would like to touch on the importance of climate information in supporting adaptation strategies and actions.
Responding to the challenges of a variable and changing climate requires a broad range of activities and approaches to reduce negative consequences, build resilience to deal with inevitable change and take advantage of new opportunities that these changes may bring.
To ensure Australia is best placed to prepare for the risks of climate change, information is needed on what climate impacts are likely to occur and when. This information then allows planners and decision makers to assess the climate risks, develop appropriate strategies and build resilience.
To this end, the Government has invested in the development of climate projections for Australia. The projections, developed by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology and released early this year, assist planners and decision makers at all levels of government and across the community by providing detailed information on likely future climate conditions.
Many of you here will be familiar with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. The Government has committed to maintaining adaptation research capacity in Australia through its renewed funding in 2014 of $9 million to the Facility. The Facility will synthesise the best available adaptation research and produce practical, hands-on tools and information for local decision-makers, particularly in the coastal zone.
At a national level, we are currently developing a National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy to outline how Australia is managing its climate risks for the benefit of the community, economy and environment - now and into the future. The Strategy also articulates a set of principles on good adaptation practice and showcase some of the leading practice adaptation activities that are already underway across Australia. I intend to release this Strategy in time for the climate talks in Paris in December this year.
Climate change science has provided Australia, and the nations of the world, with clear and robust information on the current and future state of our climate. This information provides us with the motivation to work closely with other countries to achieve a successful outcome at the Paris climate change conference.
I am proud of Australia’s world-class contribution to international climate research efforts, and I have no doubt that our scientists will continue to help Australia understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents now, and into the future.