Average annual per capita carbon emissions in Australia are 15.37 tons CO2-e according to the interactive map in the 3 October 2022 Guardian article on tracking Australia’s progress. And according to recent detailed analysis from the Climate Council, entitled Switch and Save, the national average for the emissions reduction achieved simply by stopping use of fossil gas and switching to an all-electric home is around 2 tons CO2-e per year. That’s per household, not per capita, but it still represents a significant contribution to tackling the Climate Emergency.
The above chart shows the carbon savings over 10 years in each capital city.
The above map (scroll down the article at that link to see the interactive map) shows Australia really is not doing our ‘fair share’. Only three countries have higher per capita emissions: Mongolia (26.98), Kazakhstan (15.52), and Saudi Arabia (17.97). Even Canada (14.2) and the US (14.24) are slightly lower, and New Zealand (6.94) and the UK (4.85) have much lower per capita figures.
Resource for Climate Emergency councils in areas with reticulated fossil gas
Fossil gas might still be needed for some industrial uses and as backup electricity generation, for now at least, but it really is not necessary for households and most businesses. Vast regions of Australia have never had mains gas available and they get along fine. Increasingly other people too are choosing to live in all-electric homes.
With its Switch and Save publication, the Climate Council has provided a valuable resource that local councils can use to encourage behaviour change in their local community. Even as recently as 10 years ago, gas appliances were a sensible choice. Gas was cheap and electric appliances were much less efficient than they are now. A much higher proportion of grid electricity was from coal-fired power stations than it is today, so fossil gas seemed like a lower-carbon option at the time. But all that has changed.
How many Australian households continue to use gas appliances just because that is what they have become used to using? They are familiar, or that’s what their house already had when they bought it, and unless they are energy nerds they might still think ‘gas is better’.
The Climate Council analysis debunks that myth. Click here to go directly to the pdf download. It contains details of the potential financial savings from going all-electric, and for those not yet familiar with new and efficient electric options it explains how heat pumps and induction cooktops work. It also has clear explanations of the climate benefits of switching away from fossil gas. Not only do all-electric homes have lower carbon footprints right now…much lower if they also have rooftop solar…but the grid is rapidly becoming ‘greener’.
Behaviour change for tackling the Climate Emergency
A recent publication by the UK House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee – In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals – states that:
without changes to people’s behaviours now, the target of net zero by 2050 is not achievable…32 per cent of emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.
I’ve not seen similar analysis for other countries, but given that local council carbon emissions are only a very small percentage of overall community emissions, household-level behaviour change is clearly critical.
And behaviour change relating to how people choose to warm their homes, heat water, and cook dinner is an effective place for councils that have declared a Climate Emergency to start. It is something everyone can do. It has immediate practical climate and health benefits, and as the Climate Council analysis shows, it will ‘pay for itself’ relatively quickly via reduced energy bills.
The last thing we need is households locking in continued high levels of carbon emissions by installing new fossil gas appliances when all-electric households will get closer and closer to generating almost no emissions as the grid approaches 100% renewable electricity.
Applying behaviour change thinking to getting off fossil gas
The Welsh Government as just launched for public consultation its draft Strategy for Public Engagement & Action (2022-2026). Its 4 E’s framework – Exemplify, Engage, Enable, Encourage – seems well suited to achieving a switch away from fossil gas. Even so, the very first challenge is cutting through the information overload and grabbing the attention of householders so that the 4 E’s can be implemented. Partnering with a wide variety of local organisations, like Greater Bendigo Council is doing, can help with that.
Exemplify: Lead by example. Report the motivation for and results of replacing gas use with electric appliances in council’s own operations. Make visible and celebrate getting-off-gas case studies from local climate champions (households and businesses).
Engage: Provide knowledge and involve the local community in decisions. Knowledge is particularly crucial for counteracting the clever and misleading gas industry advertising that claims gas use reduces emissions. Draw on the detailed analysis in Switch and Save to show the climate and cost benefits of all-electric homes.
Enable: While the above two E’s focus on making people want to switch to all-electric homes, the ‘enable’ step focuses on helping local households overcome the barriers that so often prevent putting those good intentions into action. This is an area where local councils can make a huge difference, for example:
- Heat pump hot water systems are more expensive to buy than gas systems even though they have lower operating costs, so make sure people know about state government schemes that subsidise the upfront cost
- Offer bulk buy schemes of high quality appliances installed by reliable companies to remove the guesswork for people who are unfamiliar with the various electric alternatives
- If your council already has a Solar Savers scheme giving interest-free loans for solar installations, or even if it doesn’t, set up a similar scheme to cover the upfront cost of going all-electric
- The end of life of a gas appliance is a perfect opportunity to replace it with an efficient electric appliance, but the quick and easy default option would be to replace like with like unless the householder had already researched and planned for an electric alternative. Can local councils help with that? Perhaps council could invite householders to pledge in advance to replace gas with electric and give them a number to contact for priority service to install their new electric appliances promptly when their gas appliances fail.
Encourage: Primarily this is an on-going consistent public narrative that normalises the choice to have an all-electric home, but it might also include incentives and reward schemes, regulations such as bans on gas connections for new builds, and emotional appeals and narratives.
A bit more about the Climate Council analysis
For a report entitled ‘Switch and Save’, its not surprising that it devotes more space to financial savings than to carbon emissions reductions. However, any local council initiative to encourage residents to switch to all-electric homes should focus primarily on its effectiveness as a climate mitigation tool. The resultant savings on energy costs can be presented as being a helpful enabler rather than the main motivator. Why?
If tackling the Climate Emergency requires widespread climate-motivated behaviour change, and it does, then it is vital to normalise that sort of behaviour change via showing that ‘everyone is doing it’. We all know we can’t do it alone.
Rooftop solar could have become a very visible indicator that ‘everyone is taking climate action’. This could have encouraged people to join in society-wide climate mitigation efforts, but it hasn’t. There has been so much focus on solar as a cost-saving mechanism that a street full of houses with solar panels simply looks like a street full of households who wanted to save money.
If switching to an all-electric home is promoted primarily as a cost-cutting measure its usefulness as a climate action engagement avenue would vanish. In contrast, information showing that it is an accessible and effective way of reducing household carbon emissions right now is empowering. It gives everyone who currently uses fossil gas a way to ‘do more’.
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