2020 is not the year that any of us wanted, and for many, it's one we would prefer to forget. A dry winter and warm spring led to an awful fire season that devastated huge sections of East Gippsland, the mountains, and north east Victoria. The human and ecological costs of these fires will take years to heal.
Then we had the coronavirus, and the double lock down of Melbourne and the regions. Isolation, separation from loved ones, and economic impacts all put a heavy toll on many people.
In spite of all this, Friends of the Earth had a remarkably productive year, with some of our long running campaigns securing significant wins, some of which have been years in the making.
Here is a summary of what we achieved in 2020, and what’s in store for 2021.
The back story
In 2011, faced with an intransigent, anti environment federal government, Friends of the Earth Melbourne focused the bulk of its campaign efforts on winning outcomes in Victoria. Working with the community and a range of allies, we helped secure some fantastic wins, including the first permanent ban on fracking in the country, the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET), the rebuild of the Victorian Climate Change Act, and a six year ban on all onshore gas drilling in the state. We mounted our biggest ever grassroots campaign in 2018 to try and secure protection of native forests across the state.
This year has seen us complete much of our longer term campaigns. As was demonstrated by the recent release of the state’s greenhouse gas data, the VRET is delivering results, with a record breaking 17% reduction in emissions during the 2017 and 2018 financial years. The greenhouse data also pointed to the need to ramp up efforts on two of our other key campaigns: emissions from the transport sector remain the second largest and fastest-growing source in the state, and the fact that Victoria’s forests are a significant carbon sink, sequestering 11.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet are being heavily logged.
But before we move on to what we need to do in 2021, let’s have a quick look at what we achieved in 2020. We have been working on some of these issues for years and it is great to have won some significant outcomes in 2020.
The VRET continued to deliver, and last month the government committed to bring at least 600 megawatts of new solar and wind capacity online
We managed to get the state government to launch an investigation into over clearing of native vegetation after the summer's fires
The state government extended funding for the Latrobe Valley Authority, Victoria’s defacto transition authority
We argued successfully for a Renewable Energy Zone to be established in Gippsland
We have been leading the drive to see Victoria become the first state to embrace offshore wind, and the government has now committed $108 million to support innovative and transformational renewable energy projects such as offshore wind
The government has announced that the metro train network will be run on renewable power, further driving the development of wind and solar projects
Of course, we have not been able to move forward on some issues. Our forests are still being cut at an unsustainable rate, even areas that were burnt last summer, and the government hasn’t enacted protection of old growth as it promised in 2019. The government is pushing ahead with destructive road projects like the North East Link. There is no serious plan for closing our ageing coal fired generators, supporting neighbouring communities and transitioning to 100% renewables.
We are campaigning on many fronts and doing our best to support local communities in their fights, from residents opposing new gas operations in western Victoria to locals fighting the Kalbar mineral sands mine planned for East Gippsland.
Our wins remind us that our approach works. Deep grassroots organising combined with strategic lobby efforts has seen FoE gain win after win this year.
2021 - unfinished business
As we move into the summer wind down, we have been reflecting on what needs to happen in 2021 if our state is to become a true leader on climate action and environmental protection. Here are some of our key campaign priorities.
Deliver science based Emission Reduction Targets (ERTs).
Firstly, the government must deliver the long awaited ERTs. If the government listens to the science, they will set targets that will drive the transformation of the state’s electricity sector.
What we’re calling for: the government should set ERTs of at least 57 percent reduction by 2025 and 75 percent by 2030.
How to get involved: our Act on Climate campaign is leading the campaign for strong ERTs. Check here for information on getting involved.
Extend the brief of the Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA).
The LVA is the state’s defacto Transition Authority. It was established to support workers and businesses affected by the closure of the Hazelwood power plant and mine. It is tasked with working with business and community to bring more jobs to the Latrobe Valley. It has now also started to assist workers from the forestry sector.
What we’re calling for: the government should announce a plan to bring forward the planned closure of the remaining coal fired generators in the Latrobe Valley. The LVA should be tasked to assist in the implementation of this plan, and support the development of renewable and clean energy projects across the region, including the Star of the South offshore wind project.
Continue the momentum in Gippsland.
The Delburn wind project and Star of the South offshore wind project and other renewables proposals offer important opportunities for the region. We will continue to campaign for the development of these projects.
What we’re calling for: the federal government needs to deliver the offshore wind energy framework so that the assessment of the Star of the South project can get underway.
How to get involved: our Yes 2 Renewables campaign is working at the community level, engaging with unions and other allies, producing research reports, and lobbying government. Find out more and get involved by checking the Y2R website.
Build the business case for Melbourne Metro 2 (MM2).
The Melbourne Metro Tunnel will transform our city. Melbourne Metro 2 is the logical addition to Melbourne’s 21st century rail network. MM2 involves building a tunnel between Newport and Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend, Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parkville and Fitzroy.
What we’re calling for: We will continue to push the Victorian government to commit to MM2. Infrastructure Victoria has now backed MM2 - we are lobbying the government to commit funds to develop a business plan for the project.
How to get involved: our Sustainable Cities campaign is working hard on the MM2, opposing the North East Link megaroad and carrying out lots of important policy and grassroots work. Get in touch via our website.
Bring forward the native forests transition plan.
In November 2019, the Andrews government announced a commitment to immediately end logging in remaining Old Growth forests, protecting around 90,000 hectares, with all logging in native forests across the state to stop by 2030.
The announcement includes the release of the Greater Glider Action Statement, which makes another 96,000 hectares of forest across Victoria immediately exempt from logging in order to protect this and other threatened species.
However, the government has stalled on implementing these protections.
What we’re calling for: the government should:
- Implement immediate protection of all old growth forests and threatened species habitat covered by the Greater Glider Action Statement
- Halt all further ‘salvage’ logging of fire affected forests
- Commit to bring forward the closure date of native forest logging
- Release a fully funded transition plan for affected workers and communities
How to get involved: stay tuned for some announcements in early 2021.
Protect the Strzelecki koala
The Strzeleckis and South Gippsland region are the home to Victoria’s only endemic koala population. Because of its unique genetics, the Strzelecki koala is the key to the preservation of the animal in Victoria and South Australia.
Since 2013, FoE has been involved in koala surveys work in the region. The work has helped identify key koala tree species, key koala locations and an estimated population size.
What we’re calling for: During 2021 FoE plans to undertake more surveys in the region, focussing on areas that have not been surveyed before.
The findings of these surveys will help FoE’s goal to see the Strzelecki koala listed under the federal EPBC Act, similar to koala populations in New South Wales and Queensland.
Repower the smelter.
The Alcoa smelter in Portland provides work for around 750 people and is hugely significant to that town’s economy. The smelter is also a major climate polluter because it currently relies on electricity generated by coal fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley. The smelter’s current electricity supply contracts run out in mid 2021. The company that owns the smelter is currently in negotiations with both the state and federal governments about a new contract.
What we’re calling for: the smelter has relied on government subsidies to remain commercially viable. Any future government support must drive the use of renewable electricity. Repowering the smelter with renewables would require approximately 1,500 MW of wind and solar along with firming technology, which would drive additional jobs and investment in regional Victoria.
No new gas.
In alliance with 75 regional communities, FoE helped win the first permanent ban on fracking (hydraulic fracturing to access unconventional gas) in the country and a ban on all onshore conventional gas exploration and production in the state. Unfortunately the government has moved to lift the moratorium on gas, successfully getting legislation through parliament. They have also opened offshore waters to gas exploration in the west of the state.
We are mobilising against the renewal of onshore gas exploration and onshore to offshore gas drilling.
What we’re calling for: the state government should:
- Cancel the two offshore gas drilling permits and rule out issuing permits for the remaining areas that were offered in 2018
- Cancel plans to open up regional Victoria to renewed onshore gas exploration and drilling.
How to get involved: stay up to date on our summer activities via the No New Gas campaign page on the FoE Melbourne website.
Responding to the fires of the future.
As climate change bears down on us, there is lots we need to do to respond to the threat of climate-driven fire seasons. Here’s our ideas on how Victoria should respond.
Other issues we are actively supporting:
- The government should rule out the mineral sands mine proposed for the lower Mitchell River in East Gippsland.
- It should rule out forcing dumping of drill waste from the Westgate Tunnel on unwilling communities, including at Bacchus Marsh and Bulla/ Sunbury.
- Rule out any commercial developments in our national parks.
- It's time to complete the reserve system - that means new National Parks in the Central West of the state - including the Wombat Forest, Pyrenees, Mount Cole and Wellsford Forest.
2020 was productive and exhausting. We are looking forward to some time off and a recharge, and wish you and yours a safe, harmonious and sustainable solstice, Christmas and new year. See you on the campaign trail.