As National Governments Procrastinate on Climate Action, Sub-National Governments Fill the Void

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At COP22, the Environment Minister of the Australian Capital Territory describes his state’s ambitious climate action plan.

Story Transcript

DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

I’m here today with Shane Rattenbury who is a member of the legislature of the Australian capital territory and the minister of the environment for the ACT. Also and notably the first green speaker of any legislative assembly in the world.

Thank you very much for joining us today Shane.

SHANE RATTENBURY: It’s good to see you.

LASCARIS: So, I’d like to talk to you for a little bit about the Australian governments and I’m talking here about eh federal governments limited policies to date. What is your assessment as the environment minister of the ACT of those policies?

RATTENBURY: Well the Australian government has traditionally in the international climate for being one of the real laggards. Being lined up with Canada, the United States. It’s the countries who have really slowed down progress in contrast with some of the more ambitious countries. So, it’s been very frustrating and we continue to see that in our current federal conservative government. Actually took away the carbon tax that we put in place at a national level. They are in the process of approving large numbers of new fossil fuel developments. Coal mines are proceeding in pace in Australia so really at a national level we are not seeing a positive environment for serious action on climate change.

LASCARIS: And do you think the election of somebody in the United States who I think can fairly be described as a climate change denialist is going to embolden the Australian government to be even more obstructionist in terms of dealing with the climate crisis?

RATTENBURY: I fear that that will be the case. There are conservative politicians in Australia who are rejoicing at the election of Donald Trump. We’ve got a number of [inaud.]

LASCARIS: [inaud.] the climate justice movement has confronted in Australia under the conservative government at the state level or I guess you could also call it the municipal level. The Australian capital territory, you’ve managed to do some quite remarkable things in terms of confronting the climate crisis. Can you sort of explain to us what you are doing?

RATTENBURY: We are seeing that across Australia at a local level, action is taking place because many of the activists have gotten so frustrated by the federal government they’ve sort of put their energy into making things happen locally and certainly in the ACT where I come from, we have seen a very ambitious climate reduction target of 40% reduction on our 1990 levels by 2020. That’s in legislation. That came about when the Green Party won the balance of power in parliament and we negotiated this outcome to form government. Then to deliver that we have put in place to 100% renewable electricity target by 2020. We’re well on our way to achieving that. We’ve actually signed all of the contracts. We’ve purchased all of the power and the wind turbines, and the solar farms are now being constructed. We will, over the next couple of years, ramp up our supply of renewable electricity extremely quickly so that by 2020 we will be getting 100% of our power from clean sources.

LASCARIS: And is anybody in the conservative government, federally or the conservative end of the political spectrum raising questions about the legality of all of this in terms of the jurisdiction of the ACT to accomplish those impressive and ambitious goals.

RATTENBURY: Certainly, not from a legal point of view. As a territory government we have all of the legal power to do this. We are responsible for the electricity network, for the grid. We are responsible for purchasing the power. We sit inside a national energy market but within that we are free to operate as we please. We set the process for electricity so all of those things are within our control. Where the criticism I suppose has come from has been about costs. Certainly, some of the conservative politicians have challenged the costs of doing this but through the very successful reverse auctions that we’ve run to buy this power, we have got it at quite the competitive prices. Ironically because the federal government is doing nothing, the wind industry has been desperate to sell.

So we’ve been in a buyers market. We’ve got the lowest wind prices ever achieved in Australia. We have locked it in at 20 year contracts which provides certainly the industry but also means we need certainty for our consumers. So our consumers will have fixed electricity prices for the next 20 years which is a great outcome for our citizens as well as a great environmental outcome.

LASCARIS: And globally outside of Australia since the Paris Accord was concluded in December of last year, have you seen promising indications from other subnational governments outside of the country.

RATTENBURY: I think that’s been one of the real stories of Marrakech is the role of subnational governments, of cities getting on with ambitious climate action. There is a lot of momentum out there. People understand the signs. They know we need to get serious. Many have been frustrated by their national governments and there is a real movement on there. We have the under 2 MOU. We have [Ilkley]. We have the states and regions alliance. There is a whole series of groups who are doing quite amazing things at that subnational level and what I found very interesting is a lot of them have come from Canada, the United States, and Australia, those countries that have been laggards at a national level. That frustration is brought out in local action.

LASCARIS: Thank you very much for joining us today and I wish you the best of luck in achieving your ambitious targets in the ACT.

RATTENBURY: Thank you very much.

LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News in Marrakech, Morocco.

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