A pledge to phase out fossil fuels

Passing the supermarket checkout is just one reminder that living carries a cost, and that cost is now rising across many economic sectors. In these circumstances we lean heavily on the ability of authorities to limit the damage until things settle down again.

It’s widely assumed that those authorities can fix things by pulling financial levers like interest rates, taxation and commercial regulation. But the underlying drivers of this instability are not financial at all. 

War is one of these non-financial drivers, but the biggest of all is a destabilised climate caused by the very thing that underpins our economic prosperity, energy from fossil fuels. Tasmania and all other jurisdictions face the daunting challenge of shifting from a fossil-fuelled economy to a wholly new, carbon-free one.

For a decade or so I have been a member of Climate Tasmania. With diverse backgrounds and expertise, the people in this voluntary group have one important thing in common: a deep concern about the climate.

The use of fossil fuels in industry and transport – our state’s biggest source of carbon emissions – also contributes massively to our cost of living. Relying on imported petrol and diesel, transport costs the state’s economy well over $1 billion a year. The question is, faced with a rising urgency to end use of fossil fuels, how can Tasmanians do that without sinking into penury?

Three years ago, when the government finally got around to amending the state’s 2008 Climate Change Act, Climate Tasmania submitted a detailed plan it had developed over years to phase out fossil fuel use by transport and industry.

The plan was the brainchild of Climate Tasmania member David Hamilton, now retired and living near Launceston, whose career in applied physics spanned nuclear, oil and gas and biofuels. He envisaged a two-pronged approach, requiring major users and public authorities to report publicly on how much fossil fuel they used, and creating a temporary Energy Transition Authority to manage the shift to clean energy.

The proposal got no government response at the time, and the Act that passed 18 months ago ignored all our ideas except a watered-down form of climate change risk assessment. Now, when the election showed public opinion moving in the opposite direction, premier Jeremy Rockliff has inexplicably decided that climate change does not warrant a portfolio in its own right. 

Climate Tasmania is proposing to galvanise strong community concern in the form of a realistic framework for phasing out fossil fuel. “What gets measured gets managed” is the premise on which in which business people are being asked to pledge to phase out their use of fossil fuels and to make their progress visible to all.

Under this plan, each participating business will pledge to reduce its fossil fuel usage, while publicly reporting at a suitably frequent interval, say every six months, on the amount of fossil fuels they have bought in the course of their trade. 

Official emissions reporting is complex, covering direct fuel use (called “Scope 1”), emissions from electricity use (Scope 2), and emissions from customer and supply chain use (Scope 3). David Hamilton’s “Fuel Reduce Pledge” has the great virtue of simplicity, focusing on the most critical element, Scope 1.

While government involvement would strengthen the scheme, it can work without it. The University of Tasmania has already agreed to anchor the scheme by publicly announcing its own pledge. Climate Tasmania is working with others on a media launch later this year. 

By making promises without actual, physical outcomes, the world’s governments have kept delaying effective action to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuel emissions, which are still climbing while the world is warming at an alarming rate.

For all its official boasts about climate leadership, Tasmania is actually a laggard. Todd Houstein, engineer and consultant for Sustainable Living Tasmania, has done the sums to show our per capita emissions are consistently and significantly above the globally-agreed safe limit.

A Climate Tasmania submission last November on a Tasmanian government transport plan, prepared by Rachel Hay, pointed out that only 0.4 per cent of cars registered in the state are electric, and showed that Tasmania is falling behind other states in decarbonising the transport sector.

It’s past time we stopped waffling and got down to tin tacks. We need to understand that the real cost of living comes from continuing to use fossil fuels, and the only way to beat inflation is to get them out of our lives. People power can make this happen. If the Liberal-Lambie coalition is to be a real government it will have to get on board.

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