Dithering on net zero leaves nation with nothing.
As climate change has moved over decades from theory to prediction to fact, straight-out denial has become untenable for the sceptics and laggards who have held Australia back for years. They’ve now moved to delay.
The delay I’m talking about shows itself in many forms. It’s as obvious as Matt Canavan using an explosion at a coal-fired power station as proof of needing a new one. It’s those suggesting soaring gas prices in Europe - largely from geopolitical causes - is why Britain should be more reliant on gas.
But the more pervasive kind is from those long sceptical of action on climate change, long with the levers of change at their hands, who now appear to have had a public change of heart. It’s just co-incidence that this change of rhet-oric (not action) aligns with their political interests.
We hear the word technology a lot from Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Angus Taylor - the three hands at the wheel of Australia’s economic future.
But saying the word techno-logy over and over again does not constitute a policy. The noticeable theme is it only ever refers to technology not available commercially at scale today. I am in full support of bringing down the costs of green hydrogen (the same technology government members have referred to as snake oil), Australia leading the world in green steel and more, but I happen to think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Batteries, electric vehicles, pumped hydro, offshore wind - all these technologies are available for massive deployment right now, but barely are uttered by those Liberals who’ve recently had their road to Damascus con-version. Electric vehicles - we can all remember the Prime Min-ister bleating that they would “end the weekend”.
All indications say the pumped hydro via Snowy 2.0 may have a two-year gap between completion and connection to the grid.
Offshore wind projects worth billions in investment, offering thousands of additional jobs off coal regions, have been refused because of “imminent” legislation on a regulatory framework. Yet these bills haven’t even been debated two years later.
Tim Wilson, the newly appointed “modern Liberal” to the portfolio, had campaigned for Australia to leave the Kyoto climate deal.
Last but not least, the new climate activist, the Treasurer, led the sophistry about the cost of action on climate change in 2019 and would not commit to net zero by 2050 as energy minister.
The dishonest scare campaigns of the past decade have not only created social division, they have cost Australia, and Australians, cold hard cash. We need to catch up, and quickly.
There have been some very large but welcome about-turns on climate from institutions such as the Business Council of Australia in recent months. The BCA joined unions and the environment movement in releasing modelling on Thursday showing Australia could create $89bn in new trade by 2040 and create 395,000 jobs through investment in clean energy exports.
It’s yet another important contribution highlighting the opportunities available to Australia in a decarbonising economy, if only we seize them. While the Coalition dithers on a “will we, won’t we” on net-zero emissions, countries the world over and the capital that feeds our economy are talking about the next 10 years.
Targets, decisions and investments for the next decade will determine the role and prominence of nations in a new global economy.
The jockeying we see globally is about climate, of course, but it’s also about economics and the changing geopolitics of energy.
It’s a race to seize new opportunities, and a race to set our position in a changing world.
Just as delay in the global race to secure vaccines has cost Australia billions through further lockdowns, delay in setting our economy up only serves to undermine Australia’s interests.
Every month, let alone year, counts in this next decade. We need not only accountable ambitions, like net zero by 2050 and stronger medium-term targets, we also need the policy to show how they will be achieved.
If the Coalition fails to deliver a sensible climate and energy plan in the coming weeks, we should not kid ourselves into thinking our global customers will wait another few years for the Liberals and Nationals to set another meeting to talk about making a plan.
While with 80 per cent of global GDP decarbonising there is an inevitability about the world’s move to net-zero emissions, Australia’s place in seizing this shift in our national interest is not assured. There are not many countries that have been so generously endowed with both fossil fuels and renewables; nations that can power their own economies, and those the world over, in both a carbonised and decarbonised global economy.
To neglect the opportunity to become a clean energy export powerhouse would be an unparalleled public policy failure, consigning current and future generations to economic destitution. It would leave Australians picking up the scraps of the great-est economic change since the industrial revolution, at a premium.
Australia is full of smart and hardworking people; they deserve better. We need a government that believes Australia can take its place at the forefront of a new glo-bal economy, not try to hold us back from it.
To neglect the opportunity to become a clean energy export powerhouse would be a policy failure.
Originally published in The Australian, Friday 15 October 2021