Professor Bill Grace from the UWA School of Design looks at the release of the Western Australian Climate Change Policy this week, and what is critical to address the climate change challenges we face in the future.
While the WA Government’s long-awaited climate change policy released this week includes important commitments, it is still missing a few key aspects.
The policy outlines how to develop, support, map and identify areas of focus but lacks specific details of how WA will decrease its emissions to zero by 2050, adapt to inevitable climate change and outline the governance that is necessary to ensure we remain on track with our plans.
WA’s emissions have been rising over the past 20 years, with energy a key area of concern. Energy emissions are the result of burning (primarily fossil) fuels for power, heat or transport. At the same time, emissions from our natural gas industry have also grown rapidly. Over the past 20 years, our greenhouse gas emissions have increased by nearly 50 per cent and are still rising.
The electricity sector is the easiest area to transition to net zero carbon emissions, as renewables and energy storage are now cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives. Yet there is currently no plan to achieve this goal. While the potential of green hydrogen is real, it will not be commercialised at scale in time to avert the climate crisis.
A major focus on energy efficiency in industry, which will pay for itself, should be a key goal for WA into the future, as well as a plan to revegetate WA in a way that benefits both carbon sequestration and biodiversity. While a focus on supporting electric passenger vehicles is sound, we also need to address emissions from freight transport and from the agricultural sector.
Irrespective of the world’s future emissions, our climate will continue to change. The only uncertainty is by how much and how significant the consequences will be for people and ecosystems.
Governments need to be in tune with the ever-growing evidence of this looming climate crisis and WA must prioritise improving the state’s resilience to the many threats we face, including heat stress-related health impacts, ecosystem disruption, more extreme weather events such as bushfires; and the consequences on our society and economy.
A strategy that clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of state and local governments will be critical for our climate change future. While the new policy outlines tasks for individual agencies and local government, it is also important to set out a whole-of-government framework of objectives for each of the identified themes, together with indicators, targets, timelines and a monitoring strategy.
Climate change is an issue that will be with us for centuries to come. Governments therefore play a critical role in developing policy that will safeguard the future for us and the generations to come. WA has many opportunities to benefit from a low carbon economy, such as green hydrogen and steel, but it is only if we can pursue these, while comprehensively addressing the threats of climate change, that we can we look to a brighter future.