The Tasmanian government’s claim to lead the world doesn’t stack up, but that can be rectified.
“Tasmania is a genuine leader in responding to climate change.” That is the State government’s bold claim in the blurb promoting its “Climate Action 21” strategic plan, but it’s simply not true.
In fairness to the Hodgman government, from the day in 2007 when Paul Lennon released a draft climate strategy, no Tasmanian administration has produced any climate measure of consequence, despite strategies released every two or three years, in 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
A strategy ought to be a plan to reach a desired goal, but these climate strategies seem to be devices for going nowhere, for preserving the status quo. They seem to be designed not to be read, but to serve as props for ministers, for holding up in parliament to show they’ve done something.
Assuming the primary goal of Tasmania’s climate strategies is lower greenhouse emissions, the data would indicate we’re anything but a global leader.
The federal government is notoriously slow to release data, but the latest available full year (2017) shows Tasmanian emissions more than a million tonnes above the figure for 2016, with rises in every sector: land use, agriculture, industry, energy and waste. If Tasmania was a country, its emissions per person in 2017 would have put us in the top 10 per cent of developed nations.
That’s not to say nothing is being done about climate change. The government’s Climate Change Office is a valuable source of information and advice, and local government, with Hobart City leading the way, is taking steps to reduce environmental impact and adapt to changing conditions.
But our institutions of government were designed in an age when time was of little consequence. Neither our bureaucracies nor their political masters seem to have adjusted to the fact that those days have gone. Climate change demands urgent action.
Our claims to leadership were based on paradigms that simply don’t stack up – on a hydro system built many decades ago and a rate of forest regrowth that is unsustainable. But we can build on our island’s advantages to become the leader we claim to be.
The first thing to do is stop messing around with disposable strategies and develop an action plan that is mandated through legislation. The fact that we don’t have one – that we have never had one, under any administration – is a killer-blow to any government’s credibility.
So far our only climate legislation is the Lennon government’s Climate Change (State Action) Act of 2008, which specified no action but did set up an advisory committee. Parliament has revisited this legislation just once, in 2014, to abolish the advisory committee – hardly an advance.
The record is dismal, but it can be rectified. The Hodgman government can start claiming leadership when it puts in place a comprehensive Climate Change Act that spells out actions to make our island home more sustainable and more equitable.
In doing so, it will do well to bear in mind that we are no longer just a speck at the bottom of the world, but an integral part of a nation and a planet whose future is the responsibility of every human community.