A new report from Australia’s Climate Council has revealed how, years on from once being a world leader on climate action, the state of New South Wales is now lagging far behind the rest of the country and is responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than any other state or territory as it continues to rely heavily on coal and gas power generation.
New South Wales history as a climate leader is long in the past now – it introduced the world’s first emissions trading scheme all the way back in 2003 which, according to estimates, reduced greenhouse gas pollution by 144 million tonnes over 10 years before concluding in 2012.
The state also used to boast strong emissions reduction targets, but these targets have since been dropped. Further, NSW had once planned to introduce a renewable energy target, another promise which was simply left by the wayside.
In the end, therefore, New South Wales has no comprehensive policy or target to encourage new renewable energy generation and it also has no policies in place to push towards reaching its net zero emissions by 2050.
All this policy inaction and ineptitude over the past decade has led to the state generating more greenhouse gas emissions than any other state or territory in Australia, as it continues to rely heavily on coal-fired and gas power generation.
This is further highlighted by the fact that New South Wales is home to the oldest coal fleet in the country – five operating coal power stations that, collectively, produced 82% of New South Wales’ electricity in 2017.
Resulting from an over-reliance on old fossil fuel-powered generation technologies is a lack of policies to support the development of more wind and solar projects in NSW beyond 2020, creating a tremendous risk that the state will be caught short as coal-fired power stations are closed or fail unexpectedly during extreme weather events.
“NSW has an energy system stuck in the dark ages, and as soon as the heatwaves hit, the old coal clunkers have a tendency to fall over like dominoes,” said Climate Councillor and former president of BP Australasia, Greg Bourne.
“NSW has Australia’s largest and oldest coal fleet. It’s risky business to rely on coal power stations which become increasingly unreliable with age. Last year they broke down more than 20 times.”
New South Wales is already affected by extreme heatwaves which have led to a 10% increase in both deaths and ambulance call-outs between 2005 and 2015, and damages from extreme weather events have now begun to cost the state $3.6 billion annually – a figure likely to only increase in coming years, driven by climate change-related extreme weather events which will become more frequent and severe.
“From sea level rise affecting coastal towns, to extreme heat in western Sydney and increasing bushfire risk across the state, climate change is a major threat in NSW,” Bourne continued.
“NSW once had the vision to protect communities from worsening climate change. It established the world’s first emissions trading scheme in 2003 but dropped it nine years later. The state once had strong targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, but these were ditched too.
“States like Victoria, Queensland and South Australia are surging forward, leaving NSW far behind. South Australia is on track to reach 73% renewable electricity in less than two years, while across Australia, almost 10,000 new jobs are being created in the renewable energy industry.”
The lack of action is further compounded by the state’s excellent wind and solar resources, but which only contribute 6% of the electricity generated
“Despite having excellent wind and solar resources, renewable energy in NSW accounts for just 6% of the electricity generated, compared to South Australia which has 4%,” said Climate Councillor and energy expert, Professor Andrew Stock.
“In the past 12 months, NSW has made progress on renewables and storage technologies, but much more needs to be done if we are going to tackle climate change.
“Whichever party is elected to lead NSW at the upcoming election, it will need to step up,” he said.
This political failure is further underscored by the fact that 83% of the New South Wales public supports the development of more renewable energy, and over twenty local councils are supporting new solar farms to help residents reduce their power bills.
Given the potential for wind and solar generation in New South Wales, the lack of policy action to develop new renewable energy fails to capitalise on the massive potential for new jobs and investment.