South Australia State forges ahead as climate leader despite Australian INDC

Ilario D'Amato
Reading time: 4 minutes
19 August 2015

LONDON: Australia has pledged to cut its CO2 emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. The announcement comes in the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted by the country ahead of the climate talks in Paris this December.

Despite the national pledge falling short of the bare minimum needed for the country to be in line with the internationally agreed safe temperature rise limit, Australia’s state governments are continuing to raise climate ambition on their own terms.

South Australia, member and co-chair of The Climate Group’s States & Regions Alliance, is one of these ‘unsung climate heroes’. Sourcing 31% of its power from wind in 2013/14 – which is one of the largest wind capacities in the world for a sub-national administration – the state is aiming for at least 50% renewables in its energy generation mix by 2025.

“Whilst the INDC presented by the Commonwealth Government is disappointing, we know that this is not the full climate action story in Australia,” remarks Libby Ferguson, States & Regions Director, The Climate Group. “At the state level, there is growing momentum and strong political will to transition to a low carbon growth path.

“Five Australian states and territories have joined our States & Regions Alliance, which is driving global climate leadership and policy innovation. These states are already demonstrating that low carbon transition and strong economic growth are fully compatible.”


Due to its geographical location, the South Australia region is particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall that could be worsened by runaway climate change. This has further driven the state government to take a leading role on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

For example under the global political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, Australia pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 5% below 2000 base level emissions by 2020. To complement this target, South Australia set its own ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

South Australia is also aiming to become a world leader in the creation of a carbon neutral built environment, committed to making the City of Adelaide carbon neutral. The initiative will drive further emissions reductions, increase the demand for renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, improve waste management and facilitate the transition to cleaner transport modes.

The State Government is in the process of developing a new Climate Change Strategy and Low Carbon Investment Plan, to identify and develop pathways toward a low carbon future.


But while South Australia is taking the lead on tackling climate change and enhancing its citizens’ life and creating new jobs by investing in cleaner energy use, the Federal Government is lagging behind. So far, other than its INDC pledge, Australia has only two ‘conditional’ climate targets.

The first one is an up to 15% carbon emissions reduction by 2020, if major developing economies commit to restraining emissions and advanced economies take on comparable commitments to Australia’s.

The second conditional target is an up to 25% carbon emissions reduction by 2020, conditional on comprehensive international action capable of stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm (parts per million) or lower.

The Federal Government to date has only committed to 5% below 2000 base level emissions by 2020.

In 2011, Australia also implemented its “Clean Energy Future Plan”, with climate actions including putting a price on carbon. However, when the new government repelled these measures in 2014, new emissions were projected to increase - rather than decrease - between 12% and 18% above 2000 levels.


Australia accounts for approximately 1.3% of global GHG emissions. With a population of over 23,830,000 people, its economy is heavily driven by primary industry. This means a high demand of electricity, three-quarters of which is generated by coal. The fossil fuel accounts for 40% of Australia’s energy consumption mix.

Australia is also the world’s largest exporter of coal. Emissions from the country’s coal resources alone, if developed, would consume two-thirds of the world’s remaining carbon budget, a Climate Council report found. Australia is also one of the largest emitters per capita and the 13th largest GHG emitter in the world.

The country has implemented a Renewable Energy Target to ensure that at least 20% of its electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. So far renewables account for 14% of the national mix, largely guided by hydroelectric power. The scheme also aims to give financial support for large-scale projects to reach 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable electricity generation by 2020.

However, a recent bill agreed to reduce the target of renewable energy generated by major power sources – such as wind farms and hydroelectric stations – to 33,000 gigawatt-hours by the year 2020. The government has also instructed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an Australian Government owned corporation which mobilizes commercial loan investments in low carbon energy, to stop investing in new wind power projects and residential solar.

These recent moves could be seen as a missed opportunity, as Australia has huge potential for renewable energy – in particular solar. The country has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world, as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency stated last year.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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