Source of renewable energy: the Gunning Wind Farm.

Source of renewable energy: the Gunning Wind Farm. Photo: Rohan Thompson

Extended heatwaves have emerged yet again to subject large swathes of south-eastern Australia to relentless extreme heat and very low rainfall. The country is parched, crops, trees and communities wilting under the baking conditions and electricity demand pushing power networks to the brink. In Canberra, emergency services have activated extreme heat event plans, and fire services have been placed on high alert.

I have no doubt this is a foretaste of what a warming climate means for our city and our region. While it is true one single weather event cannot be linked to climate change, a pattern of increases in average and maximum temperatures is consistent with the climate change forecasts.

Nationally, the Australian government continues to dismantle any effective architecture to reduce Australia's carbon emissions, including the prospect of the crippling, if not outright abolition, of one of the most effective mechanisms, the Renewable Energy Target. Despite this, residents of the national capital remain strongly supportive of action to reduce carbon emissions.

A recent survey commissioned by the ACT government of almost 1200 residents found that 76 per cent considered action by the ACT government to reduce the city's carbon emissions was moderately or very urgent. Eighty-one per cent stated they wanted the government to show strong leadership in helping residents to reduce their emissions and were prepared to accept reasonable costs in doing so.

Canberrans considered a cost of $1.61 per day acceptable to implement the technologies and policies needed to reduce the city's carbon emissions. The survey also found that despite this strong level of support, only 40 per cent were aware of ACT government plans to meet our greenhouse gas targets of a 40 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020.

So what steps are being taken to reduce the city's carbon footprint? In 2012 I released Action Plan 2 (AP2), a new strategy to achieve the 40 per cent reduction target. AP2 proposes energy efficiency improvements in homes and offices, reducing waste to landfill, shifts to public transport use and a switch to renewable energy as the key elements to achieve the 2 million tonne reduction needed to meet the target in 2020.

Of the 10 key actions in AP2 put to respondents in the survey, 73 per cent to 95 per cent supported all 10 measures, with eight of the 10 actions receiving more than 80 per cent support. The most significant of the AP2 actions now being implemented had very high levels of support. The shift to large-scale renewable energy generation by 2020 was endorsed by 87 per cent of respondents. Renewable energy will do much of the heavy lifting to meet our 2020 carbon target, achieving estimated abatement of 1.47 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent. This means the deployment of large-scale solar and wind generation in the ACT and surrounding regions.

Canberra's renewable energy future is already taking shape. The 20MW Royalla Solar Farm is now under construction south of the city. Being developed by the international solar company FRV, Royalla will deliver enough energy to power about 5000 homes, abating 700,000 tonnes of carbon during its operational life. When completed later this year it will be the largest operational photovoltaic solar farm in the country. Two more solar farms to deliver a further 20MW are proposed at Mugga Lane and at Uriarra and are currently at the planning stage.

To cut Canberra's annual carbon emissions by 2 million tonnes by 2020 will require a further 450 MW of renewable energy generating capacity. The government will shortly consider how wind, waste to energy facilities and further solar projects will play their part. In particular wind generation could significantly expanded, if the reverse auction process applied to the solar farm developments is also used for wind farms.

Despite the Australian government's abandonment of a credible national framework for climate action, residents of the capital expect strong action by the ACT government to cut our city's carbon emissions. They can be confident a comprehensive plan to shift the national capital to a low carbon future is now being put into action.

Simon Corbell is Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Information on Action Plan 2 and the community survey at environment.act.gov.au/climate_change