Tasmania has given the climate community something to smile about after months of frowning toward Australia. Since being elected in September, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been waging an anti-climate crusade. He’s abandoned the country’s long-held emissions reduction target, taken steps towards repealing the carbon emissions trading scheme, and started an international row with the likes of Al Gore and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres over climate change’s role in this year’s intense, early season bushfires.
Amidst all that, Abbott also found time to slash funding for renewable energy. Now Tasmania, Australia’s island state off the southeastern edge of the continent, has taken it’s own initiative in the face of Abbott’s many setbacks and released a climate change strategy aimed at achieving 100 percent renewable power usage by 2020.
Tasmania’s new plan — known as the Climate Smart Tasmania plan — includes energy reduction targets across multiple sectors with an interim 2020 target to reduce carbon emissions to 35 percent below 1990 levels.
A big part of the plan’s goal is to help the state stop importing coal-fired power from mainland Australia. This will be no easy task since as of 2007, around 15 percent of Tasmania’s energy use came from black coal.
However, the government has been taking steps to reduce this reliance on coal in recent years, such as introducing a $30-million Renewable Energy Loan Scheme in 2011.
“We now have in Australia a climate denialist government that is taking us backwards on climate change,” Tasmania’s Climate Change Minister, Cassy O’Connor, said. “Tasmania here has extraordinary advantages with our hydropower, with the carbon in our forests and we do need to show leadership; it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.”
Aside from hydropower, Tasmania also has significant sources of wood biofuel, geothermal, and wind power, with efforts being made to increase solar as well.
The new plan outlines more than 80 recommendations, including constraining urban growth, carbon-smart farming, public transport changes, and high energy-rating building.
The Australian Greens party was founded in Tasmania, which is renowned for its great natural beauty and wildlife. The current leaders of that party and others with similar interests are now having to confront the federal government on multiple fronts to combat environmental degradation and climate change.
Tasmania’s Federal Environment Department recently revealed that it was in talks with UNESCO to reduce Tasmania’s newly expanded and heavily forested World Heritage Area. Both state opposition leaders and the federally elected Liberal Party, which Abbott leads, want to log Tasmania’s state forests, which they can’t do if the forest is listed as a heritage area.
Between 1989 and 2010, emissions in Tasmania declined about 34 percent, in large part due to reforestation as well as changes to international accounting methods.
Connor said that last year the Tasmanian government reduced its emissions by almost 13 percent. She also said the government invested around AU$18 million since 2010 to provide energy efficiency upgrades for low-income earners and small businesses.
A few months ago King Island, located off the coast of Tasmania, actually achieved 100 percent renewable energy generation for up to 1.5 hours for the 1,700 island residents. King Island has some of the best wind power resources in the world, which the state-owned energy supplier Hydro Tasmania was able to harness in accomplishing this feat.
Several countries, including Scotland and the Philippines, have also recently announced plans to obtain all of their power from renewable energy.