ACT could pay 'social cost' for carbon if it misses emission targets
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ACT could pay 'social cost' for carbon if it misses emission targets

The Climate Change Council has warned the ACT government not to buy carbon offsets as the territory moves towards zero net emissions.

Instead the council has urged government to set new targets for reducing carbon emissions and invest in abatement measures if it failed to meet them.

ACT climate change minister Shane Rattenbury.

ACT climate change minister Shane Rattenbury. Credit:Jamila Toderas

ACT Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury will on Monday release a discussion paper detailing how the territory will achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The paper recommends bringing forward the target by five years to 2045 because of the growing risks of climate change.

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It also recommends setting interim reduction targets on 1990 levels of 50 to 60 per cent by 2025, 65 to 75 per cent by 2030 and 90 to 95 per cent by 2040.

If the ACT fails to meet these targets, the council has proposed government calculate a "social cost" per tonne of any emissions above that level.

The money would then be directed into measures to reduce emissions at a local level.

The social cost would be an estimate of the total future economic damage of emissions, including impacts to health, infrastructure, and species loss.

That cost is currently estimated at $65 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

If this social cost was applied to the government's target of making its own operations carbon neutral, it would mean an investment of $4.55 million in 2020 and further investment each subsequent year.

"This says if we miss a target we need to redouble our efforts at home, not simply buy carbon pardons from some other jurisdictions," Mr Rattenbury said.

"There's now a sense that wealthy developed countries cannot be offloading our share of the work to developing countries which has historically been what happened.

"What they're suggesting is instead of spending money buying overseas credits we would actually put that money for example into electrifying our bus fleet or taking other steps in the ACT that will cut our local emissions."

Mr Rattenbury said the ACT would meet its target of 40 per cent reduction target in 2020 because of the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Electricity accounted for 57 per cent of carbon emissions in 2012-13.

Once the ACT goes renewable, transport will become the biggest generator of greenhouse gases, about 62 per cent of emissions.

Natural gas will become the second-highest contributor, at 21 per cent.

Tackling these sources of emissions will require behavioural change in the ACT community which will be a far greater challenge, Mr Rattenbury said.

"The biggest source of transport emissions is from private vehicle use in Canberra, every day Canberrans driving around the city. We're going to have to work very hard on the transport sector to encourage more active travel, better public transport and the transition to electric vehicles," Mr Rattenbury said.

The paper said reducing the use of natural gas was a "high priority".

"There is also increasing interest in alternative gases, such as biogas and hydrogen, to inject into the existing gas network," it reads.

"The ACT government has been advised that up to 15 per cent hydrogen can be injected into the existing gas network without any changes to household, domestic and business appliances."

Mr Rattenbury said many Canberrans had already switched from gas to more efficient electric appliances because of the rising cost of gas.

"The economic equation is very encouraging for people to make the switch to electricity," Mr Rattenbury said.

But targets for individual sectors could be set to bring big generators to heel.

The discussion paper will be available for public comment at yoursay.act.gov.au until April 9.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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