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Mike Rann

06 August 2008
Mike Rann

Leader of the driest state on the driest continent, South Australian Premier Mike Rann understands the need to tackle climate change. Premier Rann's government introduced the first legislated climate change targets in the world. South Australia is now poised to achieve certain interim targets in 2009 - five years ahead of the 2014 deadline. The °Climate Group sat down with Premier Rann to learn more about how he's shaping South Australia - through policy and action - into a global climate leader....

Why did the South Australian government first decide to take action to address climate change?

South Australia (SA) is the driest state on the driest continent on the planet. With the exception of some island states, we are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. So it's pretty difficult for us to have moral suasion with other states and nations act if we're not prepared to lead. When I was re-elected in 2006, as well as being Premier, I appointed myself as Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change - the first in Australia and maybe even internationally. So as a state of 1.6 million people (8 per cent of Australia's population) - but covering an area of land nine times the size of England - we have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership that has an impact on others.

To what extent has action to reduce emissions in SA been spurred on by the climate change impacts the state has been experiencing in recent years?

Climate change is being felt right now in Southern Australia, particularly in the Murray Darling Basin. We're in a perilous situation, with what the Murray Commission stated is a one-in-one thousand year drought, or one-in-one thousand year low in-flow, into the River Murray. We regard these impacts as a real and present threat. When we were first elected six years ago there were no wind turbines operating in SA. We now have 53 per cent of wind power and about 40 per cent of solar power in Australia. We are also conducting exploration and development research into emissions-free geothermal energy, which we think has enormous potential for the future.

SA was the first state in the country to legislate climate change targets, through the Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act 2007. What were the main challenges you faced in implementing this legislation?

Basically, we devised a plan to see where we wanted the state to be in 10 years time and how we were going to get there. We set numerous targets which were then enshrined in the legislation. In addition to the overall target relating to 2050, we also set interim goals for 2014. We legislated that by 2014, 20 per cent of power generated and consumed in SA would come from sustainable energy, such as wind and solar.

Many critics said the 2014 target was unachievable - but I'm delighted to say that these targets will be reached in 2009, 5 years ahead of schedule. This puts us in an international leadership position. Even as a small jurisdiction we are leading by example and having a positive collateral impact on other states, cities and regions - as well as national jurisdictions.

The legislation has some ambitious targets - what are the main actions being taken by the state to achieve these goals?

We've done a suite of things. We introduced feed-in laws to stimulate greater uptake of solar energy; this came into force on July 1st. The Electricity (Feed-In Scheme-Solar Systems) Amendment Act 2008 is the first solar feed-in law in Australia that will pay a premium guaranteed tariff of AUS$0.44 per unit of electricity (kWh) to households and small customers who feed solar electricity into the grid.

We have mandated that all new homes in SA will be 5* energy rated and come with plumbed rainwater tanks, solar hot water systems or equivalent for sustainable hot water. The state government will only purchase, lease or rent government buildings if they are 5* energy rated.

As a big purchaser of energy, through buildings such as schools and hospitals, I recently announced that by 2014 50 per cent of the SA government's own power will come from sustainable energy. At the beginning of 2009, we'll also be getting our first electricity from hot rocks (geothermal) in a pilot plant.

As well as embracing sustainable energy, we're also looking at offsets and reducing energy outputs. By 2020 SA will be the first carbon neutral government in the world. The cabinet is already carbon neutral - we offset our travel from planes and cars - but this will make the entire public service, all civil servants and government departments totally carbon neutral.

Our climate change legislation provides for sector agreements so that different industries can commit to our targets I recently signed an agreement with the South Australian wine industry, in order for it to reduce its carbon footprint. We're negotiating with other industry groups on similar agreements. And I'm really pleased that many local government councils have decided to match our target and purchase green power.

What role, if any, will SA's targets play now that the federal government has committed to a 60 per cent target?

Since newly-elected Prime Minister Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol last November, we've been leading the push for Australian emissions trading alongside a couple of other states. The federal government has now committed to join us in establishing an emissions trading scheme by the end of 2010. Under the Council of Australian Governments which brings the Prime Minister together with the Premiers and Chief Ministers, we are working very collaboratively on this.

Your strategy was developed in collaboration with 600 stakeholders. How important is such collaboration is in addressing climate change?

I think it's critically important to lead but it is just as important to bring people with you.

One of the things we did when first elected was to follow the advice of The °Climate Group's Australian Board Vice-Chair, prominent Australian environmentalist, Tim Flannery, who was then the director of the South Australian museum. He recommended that I fund the installation of solar panels on the roof of the South Australian Museum and a number of other prominent buildings in the state. And now we're set to announce the biggest solar roof in Australia.

We've got a massive development of wind farms and are introducing mini wind towers on the roofs of government buildings and football stadiums, as well as putting solar panels on the roofs of 250 schools and integrating what's happening on the roof with the curriculum.

These sorts of things might be seen as symbolic but they're also highly educational. Kids go to school and when they see how much solar power is being produced by the roof, and then see the same at the museum or the football, they go home and encourage their parents to install similar systems.

As well as being Premier, you are also Minister for Climate Change and as such you personally have been a very proactive leader on the issue. Do you think that your leadership has been central to raising the profile of climate change in the state? And how significant do you think top-level support for mitigation efforts is more generally?

Well, I hope so. That is why I took on the portfolio - it was a very unusual thing to do. I am also Minister for Economic Development and Social Inclusion. Through these roles I want to demonstrate that you can be pro-jobs, pro social justice and pro-environment - that those things aren't mutually exclusive.

Some of the things we've been doing in SA, including our solar feed-in laws and government purchases of renewable energy, are being taken up by other states in Australia and other jurisdictions internationally. We see ourselves as a bit of a laboratory for change. And I think that our leadership is paying dividends. Ultimately, the good thing about being the Premier or the Prime Minister is that if you go into cabinet with an idea, it is likely to get adopted and supported. I have the strong support of my ministers and my party in making SA a world leader tackling climate change.

In the absence of national leadership the states worked together on developing an emissions trading scheme. How important was this in getting the issue taken up at a national level?

Critically important. Under the Howard Government, the states and regions wanted to collaborate with the federal government, but the former Prime Minister was until the last moment a climate change denier, refusing to sign Kyoto. So we went public in stating that if the federal - the former conservative Government of Australia - wasn't prepared to establish an emission trading scheme then we, as states and territories, would act alone and commit to doing so by the end of 2010.

I was the inaugural Chair for the Council for the Australian Federation of states and territories. We commissioned the Garnaut Report, which was released in July. We also commissioned a major discussion paper on setting up an emissions trading scheme. And we're delighted that we've now got a federal government whose first act was to sign Kyoto and is now collaborating with us to get a unified, national emissions trading scheme up and running.

When I proposed a scheme with a couple of other Premiers, about two years ago, John Howard basically stated in Parliament that we would wreck the economy...what a difference an election makes.

Now that the federal government has committed to emissions trading and increasing the renewable energy target, what do you think the priorities should be for state governments when it comes to addressing climate change?

Both measures are priorities. They have to be done concurrently - this is absolutely critically important. It can't be seen as an either/or scenario.

What are your future plans for taking climate change abatement work forward?

We've only just announced that the government is going carbon neutral and the purchase of 50 per cent of government power from sustainable energy by 2014. Now what I am trying to do, through my role as the President of the Australian Labour Party, is to see if we can re-energise our party membership on climate change right across the nation.

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