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Federal government lags all Australian states on renewable energy action, new report finds

WWF Australia awards commonwealth wooden spoon over missed opportunity at Cop26

Williamsdale solar farm in the ACT. World Wildlife Fund Australia has ranked Australian governments on their renewable energy policies. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA

The federal government has been ranked last behind all Australia’s states and the Northern Territory in the move toward clean energy, with a new report showing Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia are leading the transition to renewables. World Wide Fund for Nature - Australia’s second “renewable superpower” scorecard ranks Australian governments on their progress in switching to clean energy and developing new renewable export industries. The environment group’s energy transition manager, Nicky Ison, said the rankings showed state and territory governments were leading the way on climate policy.

She said the Morrison government had missed its opportunity to use the Cop26 climate summit to announce it would do more and, combined with not replacing the renewable energy target (which ended in 2020), saw it drop from seventh to eighth place.

“We are certainly seeing the states leading the transition to renewables and opening up new industries,” Ison said.

Governments were scored across 10 categories, including renewable energy targets, renewable energy zones and transmission, energy storage, renewable energy industrial precincts and renewable export strategies.

Tasmania, which topped the first scorecard in March, again ranked number one with a score of 61 out of 100 for policies including a “world-leading” renewable energy target of 200% by 2040.

The state was also given high marks for other actions including the establishment of a new department responsible for climate policy and growing new industries in a green economy.

The NSW government scored 59 out of 100, moving into second place – from equal third in the previous report – after making substantial policy announcements for green hydrogen and decarbonising transport and industrial sectors.

South Australia, with its proposal for a 500% renewable energy target by 2050, was third and Queensland moved into fourth after investing $2bn in a renewable energy and hydrogen jobs fund.

The ACT, because of its unique situation as Australia’s smallest and only landlocked jurisdiction, could only be scored on six of the 10 categories and was therefore excluded from the final rankings.

But it was the leader in some categories, including equal first with Tasmania and South Australia for legislated renewable energy targets, and equal first with NSW for its work to increase demand for renewable exports.

Victoria placed fifth, Western Australia sixth and the Northern Territory seventh.

Ison said the federal government had failed to develop a new renewable energy target for 2030 and beyond and had missed “opportunities to announce a renewable energy industrial precincts policy supporting clusters of heavy industry to be powered by renewables”.

She added there was a need for all jurisdictions to announce clean export strategies and Cop26 would have been a “ripe opportunity” for the Morrison government to unveil one.

Before the summit, the federal government was widely criticised for releasing a net zero plan that contained no new policies to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, as climate scientists say is necessary. It instead relied on unspecified technology breakthroughs, global trends, and carbon offsets for more than a third of the abatement task.

When the summit was under way, a group of state and territory governments announced a cross party agreement to help each other work towards reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Ison said all jurisdictions would be better placed with committed federal direction, policy and funding.

“We don’t just want NSW or Queensland to become a renewable superpower,” Ison said.

“We want Australia as a nation to achieve this status and show global markets we will be a resilient and reliable export partner as the world transitions to a clean energy future.”

Head of policy and research at Beyond Zero Emissions, Tom Quinn, said the scorecard showed most Australian governments were lifting their performance and “the building blocks are being put in place for a clean commodity future”.

He said the organisation’s own modelling had found renewable energy industrial precincts would help create a new green export market worth $333bn a year for Australia’s economy by 2050.

“The progress on establishing renewable energy zones and connecting that to industry, these are the attributes that will unlock a clean export boom,” Quinn said.

A spokesperson for the federal energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, said the report downplayed the scale of government investment and failed to recognise “many important initiatives that are having an impact across the country”.

The spokesperson said the report failed to mention the government’s $464m “clean” hydrogen hubs program or “the more than $1.2bn the federal government has already committed to developing an Australian clean hydrogen industry”.

Clean hydrogen can include green hydrogen or blue hydrogen made with fossil fuels and backed by carbon capture and storage.

Taylor’s spokesperson said the government was also supporting “every major priority project” in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2020 integrated system plan, had committed $150m to support microgrid projects, and was “investing more in pumped hydro and batteries than every Australian jurisdiction combined”.

“The fact is, it is the federal government’s policies and investments – enabling and accelerating action by the private sector and other levels of government – doing the heavy lifting on practical action to reduce emissions around the country.”


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