Combet panel urges big emissions cuts for Victoria, but stops short of 1.5°C pathway

Victoria's independent expert panel has released its recommendations for interim emissions reduction targets as part of Victoria's efforts to reach zero net emissions, but stopped short of recommending targets consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
The independent panel has recommended the setting of a 2025 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 32% and 39% below 2005 levels, along with an further interim target of reducing emissions between 45% to 60% by 2030. This is even higher than the target brought to the recent federal election by federal Labor.
The independent panel was chaired by former Federal Labor Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet, and supported by University of Melbourne climatologist Dr Penny Whetton and energy industry expert Dr Lorraine Stephenson.
The expert panel noted that the interim targets would be consistent with limiting global warming to 2 degrees, but larger emissions cuts would be needed to achieve consistency with a 1.5 degree pathway.
An interim target of 67% by 2030 would be required to provide a pathway consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, with the independent panel saying that a higher target would be a trade-off with increased economic costs.
“These targets are environmentally and economically responsible. They will enable Victoria to capture the economic, social and environmental benefits of a transition to net zero emissions, provide flexibility to manage uncertainties and impacts on specific communities, and are consistent with the international commitment to keep global temperature increases to well below 2°C,” the expert panel said in the report.
Around half of Victoria's emissions are produced by power stations located within the state, with a majority of electricity generated in the state coming from an aging fleet of emissions intensive brown coal power stations.
Many of these power stations are expected to close before 2050, with Victoria needing to replace a significant proportion of the state's generation capacity. This process commenced with closure of the Hazelwood power station
in 2017.
Fortunately, modelling commissioned for the independent report showed that due to significant reductions in cost, a 50% reduction of electricity emissions through investments in renewable energy projects would lead to substantially lower wholesale electricity prices, estimated to fall to around $79 per MWh, compared to current prices of more than $90 per MWh.
In 2017, the Victorian Government legislated to set a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. State targets for emissions reduction have received growing focus following Federal Government sandbagging on climate policies and targets.
In setting the net zero emissions target, Victoria also established the process for an independent expert panel to advice on suitable interim targets, as a pathway for meeting the 2050 goal.
Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said that the next step for the Government was to consult with the public on the interim targets, before settling on interim targets by a March 2020 deadline.
'Reducing emissions and tackling climate change will create jobs and grow our economy – we want Victoria to be first in line to benefit from the opportunities a low carbon economy will deliver.' D'Ambrosio said.
'The Government looks forward to working closely with industry and the wider community to deliver on our targets, create jobs and take real action on climate change.'
The Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC) welcomed the interim targets, saying they were in line with market trends, and a wider global transition towards zero net emissions.
'Credible targets aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement provide the private with greater certainty on the rate and pace of change ahead. Emission targets also allow for better transition planning for impacted communities and this can support new investment in these regions.' IGCC CEO Emma Herd said.
'If Victoria Implements credible 2025 and 2030 emissions reductions targets this would be a positive market signal to investors in Australia and around the world and should unlock investment opportunities.'
Friends of the Earth called on the Victorian Government to adopt stronger interim targets, and feared that even the interim targets recommended by the expert panel would not be sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
“The Federal Coalition's failure to act on the climate crisis leaves Victorian communities exposed to intensifying heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, and rising sea levels,' Friends of the Earth's climate spokesperson Leigh Ewbank said.
'Now more than ever we need the Victorian Labor government to show political leadership and set the targets needed to meet 1.5°C challenge.'
'The Andrews government pledged to limit warming to 1.5°C, now it's time to deliver.'
The Victorian Government will conduct consultation starting from mid-July, with final interim targets to be published by the government by 31 March 2020.
The government will further determine sectorial targets and develop a climate change strategy before the end of 2020.
Michael Mazengarb
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.
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