The South Australian Government has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, following a report from the Low Carbon Economy Expert Panel, which also recommended taking nuclear energy off the table, more stringent building standards, mandating solar panels on all new homes and requiring all major projects to be carbon-neutral.

The South Australian government acted swiftly to endorse the zero emissions goal, announcing the formal adoption of a net zero emissions by 2050 target.

Premier Jay Weatherill said announcing this intention to Australian and overseas investors would give the state a competitive advantage by positioning it as a leader in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“The Expert Panel’s report is a roadmap for our State to reduce emissions in a way that supports job growth in new and emerging green technologies,” Mr Weatherill said.

“One example is the potential for South Australia to be a low-carbon electricity powerhouse and a net exporter of renewable energy.”

The panel – which comprised ClimateWorks chief executive Anna Skarbek, former Liberal leader and chair of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project Dr John Hewson, and ANU director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy Dr Frank Jotzo – said the transition to a low carbon economy offered enormous opportunities for new industries.

Modelling for the report was undertaken by ClimateWorks, drawing on the Australian Deep Decarbonisation Pathways report released in September 2014.

Ms Skarbek said the government’s emissions reduction target was achievable and urged other Australian governments to make similar climate change commitments.

“As Australian government leaders fly to Paris this weekend for the climate change summit, this announcement by a state government should encourage them to make stronger emissions reductions targets as well,” she said.

SA Minister for Climate Change Ian Hunter said the state’s strengths in education had potential to be applied in developing the skills and workforce for a carbon-constrained future.

“There are also significant innovative market opportunities for energy storage solutions from the state’s high penetration of solar PV, with the potential to attract and develop technology suppliers and expertise in the state,” Mr Hunter said.

Mr Hunter also called on the federal government to respond to a global consensus on climate change action by implementing a national emissions trading scheme.

The panel has recommended that energy efficiency in buildings be an area of focus, particularly in the residential sector, where energy efficiency combined with decarbonised electricity could lower the sector’s emissions to near zero.

It has also recommended increased support for community wind and solar projects, promotion of electric vehicles, development of EV charging infrastructure and for the government to mandate that all major infrastructure projects must procure carbon offsets to achieve net zero. This is tied to another major opportunity identified for the state – carbon forestry to offset residual emissions.

If increased carbon forestry were to be implemented, there was the potential to become an exporter of carbon offsets. The panel assessed carbon forestry as having the potential to slash the state’s emissions by 29 per cent.

In terms of the buildings sector, the panel recommended the government work with other jurisdictions to drive evolution of the building code and appliance standards to increase energy efficiency. It also recommended increasing the stringency of energy efficiency requirements in the state’s planning code, and changes to stamp duties.

“There are many exciting new technologies that can save energy in buildings and improve comfort. In addition, there may be potential for South Australia to develop new industries to deploy some of the new and emerging building technologies,” the panel said.

“Increasing the stringency of building standards has been shown to have a significant impact on the energy efficiency of new buildings. While there are some benefits from national consistency, the national building code process has been extremely slow. There are benefits from South Australia introducing its own building variations and utilising the planning code being developed through the planning reform process as well as working with other states.

“Also South Australia can consider adjusting its stamp duty rates to be linked to emissions performance, which can help drive consumer interest and market demand.”

The Clean Energy Council welcomed the panel’s findings and the SA government’s response.

CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said the government was showing strong leadership to cut emissions and deliver renewable energy investment.

“A long-term transition plan for a cleaner energy sector with strong market signals will attract major private sector investment to the state. It is certainly achievable, and the South Australian example to date shows that much higher levels of renewable energy are possible throughout the rest of the country,” Mr Thornton said.

“This goal will need to be accompanied by smart energy market reform that ensures the state can run on progressively higher levels of renewable energy and continue to operate a stable energy system.”

Mr Thornton said the government’s 2050 zero net emissions target aligned well with the timelines that some companies have set for the retirement of their existing fleet of coal-fired power generators.

“More than 70 per cent of Australia’s coal-fired power plants are at or beyond their expected retirement date, and even the owners of these plants recognise that they will need to be replaced with modern, clean ways of generating power,” he said.

“Change is already happening much faster than many businesses have anticipated, and the South Australian Government should be congratulated for its hard work to maximise the benefits from the inevitable changes in the way we generate and consume electricity.

“Renewable energy has already delivered about $6 billion of investment to the state, with the promise of much more to come.”

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  1. It will be interesting to see how SA plans to decarbonise the transport sector, heavily reliant on private cars and diesel buses at the moment, and with commuter rail reduced to a rump of three lines.

  2. Go you good things! Finally some vision and leadership. SA will feel the brunt of a hotter climate more than most other States in Oz – good to see they’re thinking ahead.