Canberrans are being asked to do more of the heavy lifting in combatting climate change

I’m advised by my friends from Canberra that the city is hooked on the car culture and a fairly unsustainable lifestyle. It is going to be a challenge for the needed change. Tom Lowrey writes on the ABC News website about the plans that are being considered. What is your city doing to combat climate change?


New climate strategy asks residents to do ‘heavy lifting’, with ‘car-free days’ and no gas cooking

Canberrans are being asked to do more of the heavy lifting in combatting climate change — starting with giving up petrol-powered cars and gas-heated homes.

The ACT Government has unashamedly asked the community to do more to help it reach the ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2045, with transport and natural gas top of the list of targets.

On Monday, while launching the latest ACT Climate Change Strategy, the Government detailed plans to encourage Canberrans to ditch cars in favour of public transport, including participating in “car-free days”, and trading in the gas heater for an electric air-conditioner.

As part of the announcement, which builds on the Government’s previous strategy from 2012, Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury pointed to Copenhagen in Denmark as a model of the kind of city Canberra could be.

And he floated options like changing costs of car registration, as well as restricting parking, in a bid to move people away from private petrol-powered cars.

Mr Rattenbury said the strategy, and the city’s new Living Infrastructure Plan, undoubtedly put more weight on consumers to pick up the burden of climate action.

“The move to 100 per cent renewable electricity has been led by the government and households have, I think, been very positive about that on the whole,” he said.

“This is not about making it the community’s problem, government will continue to lead and provide the framework and that’s very much what this strategy does. But we’re also being very clear, we want to partner with people.”

Chief Minister not worried about political risk ahead of election

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the strategy noted the inherent danger in predicting and relying on personal behavioural change to cut carbon emissions.

But he believed Canberrans were largely willing to take up the task and wanted to see action in the area.

“I think people are already voluntarily making a lot of changes, and there is a lot of enthusiasm for those sorts of changes,” Mr Barr said.

“People want information, to be better informed on what sorts of choices they can make that will make a difference.”

He also said he did not see significant political risk in making such a request of the public, 12 months out from the next ACT election.

Government suggests ‘car-free days’

Canberra may be the home of Summernats, but the new strategy tackles Canberra’s love of petrol-powered cars head on.

The ACT’s existing transport strategy already considers cars its lowest priority, and this climate change strategy maintains that approach.

According to Mr Rattenbury, the change was unavoidable.

With the ACT reaching 100 per cent renewable energy from the beginning of October, Mr Rattenbury said transport now made up more than half of all of the ACT’s emissions — and almost all of that was private car use.

“Our city has been designed for the car, and it’s something people rely on to get around,” he said.

“But with more than 60 per cent of our emissions coming from transport after 2020, this is an area we have to tackle.”

Under the Government’s models, a rapid transition away from petrol cars would take place and Canberrans would move towards “zero-emission” vehicles, which would be either fully electric or plug-in hybrid.

In that scenario, two per cent of all cars would be zero-emission by 2025, 25 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2045.

But amongst the most controversial suggestions made by the Government were “car-free days”, with the aim of encouraging people to find alternative methods of getting around.

Mr Rattenbury pointed to car-free days held in many European cities as a model, where central areas were closed off to cars on some weekends.

He said in Canberra that would mean four or five main roads in a town centre, like Belconnen, being closed on a Saturday to give people a taste of roads without cars.

Car rego price could depend on how often you drive

The Government also flagged they were considering changes to car registration, moving from a fixed price to register a car to one that would vary depending on how much a car is used — creating a financial incentive to cut down on driving.

It said it was also exploring options for reducing the availability of car parking, including allowing unit developers to provide less parking if they paid a fee, and regulating maximum levels of parking developers could provide for new unit blocks.

But Mr Barr said people could still drive, and enjoy driving, but they would be doing it in a different vehicle in the future.

“I think the type of vehicle that people utilize to undertake that sort of free and easy movement … that will change,” he said.

“That’s going to be driven by international trends in motor vehicle production, we don’t make cars in Australia anymore, we import all of them.”

No more cooking with gas

Under targets set by the new strategy, the ACT would be the first Australian jurisdiction to go natural gas-free from 2045.

Regulations will be changed to remove the requirement for developers to include gas connections in new suburbs. But the policy is a moderately awkward one for the ACT Government, which is a shareholder in ActewAGL, a retail provider of natural gas to Canberra households.

Mr Barr said he expected the transition away from gas within households would be fairly natural.

He said as gas appliances died, households would replace them with electric goods, simply because they were most cost-effective.

Mr Barr said it was basic consumer maths, as all-electric new home will save an ordinary household around $450 per year.

“I would certainly say to people, look at the relative pricing as well and I think people will reach that conclusion themselves, in terms of the cost of those appliances and how much they cost to run,” he said.

“The market will drive a lot of that change over the coming two decades.”

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