A report by the WWF has ranked Australian jurisdictions by their renewable energy achievements.

The World Wide Fund for Nature has released its Renewable Superpower Scorecard 2021, identifying achievements and potential areas of improvement for Australian jurisdictions in the race to become a renewable energy ‘superpower’.

The report estimates that governments in Australia invested more than $7 billion in ‘clean energy stimulus measures’ last year. “Although significant,” the report acknowledges, “it’s a fraction of what has been spent in other countries.” WWF warns that “no jurisdiction is doing well when it comes to sharing the benefits of the energy transition.” It’s one area that warrants “substantial attention from all governments,” according to the report.

The WWF states that “to become a real renewable superpower, Australia should look to produce seven times the amount of electricity we currently consume” by 2050, through renewable energy sources.

A key finding of the report was that governments “of all political persuasions are embracing renewables” and “bipartisan support for renewable energy policies is becoming more common.” The report praises renewable energy targets set by Liberal state governments in South Australia, which is aiming for 500% renewable energy by 2050, and Tasmania, which legislated a target of 200% renewable energy for 2040. It also commends Queensland’s Labor government for appointing its first Minister for Renewables and Hydrogen, as well as the Liberal-National government in New South Wales, which “legislated the biggest renewable energy commitment by an Australian government in over a decade,” and the Liberal-National federal government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, which “identified clean hydrogen, energy storage, and low carbon steel and aluminium as three priority areas that offer huge export opportunities for Australia.”

The report also features detailed scorecards for federal, state and territory governments. Tasmania’s Liberal government ranks first, with a score of 58 out of 100. Ranked second is the South Australian Liberal government, with a score of 51. The Victorian Labor government and the New South Wales Liberal-National government tie for third place, on 43 points. Labor governments in Queensland and Western Australia tie for fifth place with 38 points each, ahead of the Liberal-National federal government (34 points) and the Northern Territory’s Labor government, which ranks last with a score of just 30.

Tasmania’s strong scorecard comes as no surprise. In 2020, it became the first of the six states to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable energy, but it also plans to go far further. Last year, the state’s Energy Co-ordination and Planning Act 1995 was amended to enshrine ambitious new targets into legislation. Tasmania aims to generate 15,750 GWh of electricity per year from renewable energy sources by 2030, and 21,000 GWh per year by 2040. In 2019, Tasmania generated 10,801 GWh of electricity from all sources combined. “It is now time to showcase our innovation to the world and stake our claim as a renewables powerhouse,” Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein asserted in March 2020. The Liberal Party has governed Tasmania since 2014, overseeing and completing the state’s rapid transition to 100% renewable energy.

South Australia, ranked second, generated 59% of its electricity from renewables in 2020, and plans to reach 100% by 2030. The report also praises the state for its clean energy storage, and for becoming the first state to adopt a Hydrogen Action Plan. South Australia’s Liberal government has been highly supportive of renewable energy, although much of the recent progress made by the state was achieved under the preceding Labor government, which was voted out in 2018. The current government has also embraced other environmentalist policies, leading South Australia to become the first Australian state to ban single-use plastics this year.

New South Wales’ Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap is described as “the most ambitious energy transition plan announced so far” in the report, which also commends Victoria for pledging $1.6 billion for its clean energy program, as part of its COVID-19 recovery budget. However, Victoria’s Labor government is criticised for its “modest” target of 50% renewable energy by 2030 and its proposed tax on electric vehicles, which “disincentivises the move to electric,” according to the report.

Western Australia’s poor renewables scorecard is largely due to its lack of renewable energy targets. “Western Australia is the only jurisdiction that has no renewable energy target, despite its world-leading renewable energy resources. This lack of clear direction from the government creates uncertainty, undermining the growth of the renewable energy sector,” the report says. Labor’s landslide victory in the recent Western Australian election is unlikely to improve the situation. Premier Mark McGowan has taken a conservative approach to renewable energy, and the decline of the Greens in the state’s upper house, in which Labor now has a majority of seats, will ease pressure on the government to embrace renewables. In 2019, McGowan criticised Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority for proposing guidelines that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from emissions-intensive projects.

Queensland and the Northern Territory, which have been governed by Labor since 2015 and 2016 respectively, trail all other jurisdictions in the transition to renewable energy. In 2020, just 4% of the Northern Territory’s electricity and 15% of Queensland’s electricity was generated from renewables. Both jurisdictions plan to reach 50% by 2030, but Queensland has not enshrined this target in legislation and the Northern Territory will find the target challenging to meet at its current rate of progress.

Due to the Australian Capital Territory’s unique geography, its government could not be scored on all criteria or ranked against the other jurisdictions. However, it managed a relatively impressive score of 34 out of 65 on a smaller range of criteria. The report praised the territory for becoming the first Australian jurisdiction to meet a 100% renewable energy target, which it achieved in 2019.

In the rankings, clear patterns emerge. States and territories in the south-eastern corner of Australia tend to be more supportive of renewable energy, whereas Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory are less so. The two highest-ranked jurisdictions – Tasmania and South Australia – are also the only two jurisdictions in which the Liberal Party governs sans a coalition with the Nationals. Currently, governments that feature the Labor Party or the Nationals tend to be more conservative with regard to energy policy.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, on energy and climate policy, the gap between the Liberal Party and the Nationals is widening. In states that have no Liberal-National coalition, such as Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia, the Liberal Party is adopting progressive positions on the transition to renewable energy. Ahead of the recent Western Australian state election, for example, Liberal leader Zak Kirkup promised to close all publicly owned coal-fired power stations by 2025, reach net zero carbon emissions from state government assets by 2030, and increase state investment in electric and hydrogen vehicles. In other states, however, coalition with the Nationals has held the Liberals back on environmental issues. Last year, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian faced significant opposition from the National Party over her koala protection policy.

The ranking also brings attention to a rather bizarre reality, that the federal government trails every state government in the transition to renewable energy. In recent years, the transition to renewable energy has been a tricky topic in federal politics, with Labor retreating from its previous policy of putting a price on carbon, while the Liberal-National government takes a similar stance, promising to achieve climate action through ‘technology, not taxes’. At the federal level, both major parties lag behind most of their respective state branches.

The report also cites ‘leading examples’ from around the world, including the United States, where President Biden will invest $2 trillion (USD) in the electric vehicle industry to reduce emissions and create jobs. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government has developed the ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution‘, an ambitious strategy that would create an enormous amount of green energy, while drastically reducing emissions caused by transport.

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