Recent stories in RenewEconomy and other publications have highlighted the extraordinary unease facing the renewable energy industry should the Coalition win the federal election.
Putting an axe to the carbon price and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, reviewing the Renewable Energy Target and commissioning a white paper for the Direct Action Plan are all recipes for uncertainty, but this doesn’t have to be the way under a conservative government.
Conservative governments throughout Europe, in California and in other US states have played leading roles in pricing carbon and taking action on climate change. And recently, four leading Republican administrators outlined a blueprint for conservative government action on climate change. It makes for essential reading for all Liberal and National Party MPs.
Writing in The New York Times on 1 August, four former Directors of the US Environmental Protection Agency called on their nation to act urgently nationally and internationally to tackle climate change.
Their first message was simple, but telling:
“There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere…
The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”
There is no longer any credible scientific debate, but still we have conservative politicians in this country denying basic science. The Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Greg Hunt, has been crystal clear the Federal Coalition accepts climate science, but his message continues to be undermined by his colleagues.
With leaked reports of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study indicating there is a 95% certainty that humans are responsible for most of the planet’s warming, there is now no excuse for the dismissal or downplaying of basic climate science.
The Republican administrators went on to make a strong case for climate action. They emphasised their preference for “a market based approach” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of political support in the US Congress for an emissions trading scheme, they called for strong regulatory action to curb carbon pollution and substantial investment in clean energy technologies.
This was their message to fellow Republicans: “When confronted by a problem, deal with it. Look at the facts…devise a workable solution and get it done…The rest of the discussion is either detail, which we can resolve, or purposeful delay, which we should not tolerate.”
The Coalition’s approach to climate change is, of course, a taxpayer funded Direct Action Plan – an approach that provides direct incentives to companies reducing their carbon emissions – and an ongoing commitment to the Renewable Energy Target.
The Coalition is adamant the Direct Action Plan “will ensure Australia reaches its target of a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020”, but recent economic modeling by SKM-MMA for The Climate Institute indicated Australia’s emissions could actually rise by 9 per cent by 2020 under the Coalition’s policy. The capped nature of the scheme could mean emissions targets are sacrificed under budget pressure.
The Direct Action Plan will establish a reverse auction to reward least cost emissions reduction, but it remains unclear how this will work in practice, with the policy subject to a White Paper process before being finalised. More uncertainty.
The Coalition is rightly committed to maintaining the Renewable Energy Target. Indeed, the Renewable Energy Target was the single greatest clean energy achievement of the Howard Government, having been established in 2001.
The Renewable Energy Target has been an extraordinary success. There are now some 25,000 Australians employed in the clean energy industry, more than the car industry. According to the Clean Energy Council, more than $4 billion was invested in renewable energy and energy smart technologies in Australia in 2012 alone.
More than 13 per cent of Australia’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2013 and with Australia set to generate 20 per cent of its electricity from clean energy sources, the jobs of the future will flow from this important industry.
The Renewable Energy Target may have been a great success, but it is still subject to perpetual review. Late last year, the independent Climate Change Authority undertook a comprehensive review of the Target and concluded it was meeting its objectives and didn’t need any significant changes.
The Federal Coalition, is, however, committed to reviewing the Target again next year if elected, creating enormous uncertainty for the industry. We are now seeing an investment strike in large-scale renewable energy projects as investors sit on the sidelines, awaiting the election result and a likely review of the Renewable Energy Target. There is no justification for another review of the Renewable Energy Target so soon after the last one.
Much can be done to calm the nerves of the clean energy industry. The Coalition must affirm its ongoing support for the current fixed Renewable Energy Target. Then – and only then – will Australia see its fair share of the trillions of dollars of clean energy investment that is rushing out the door around the world.
The great Republican President Abraham Lincoln famously wrote in 1861: “the struggle of today, is not altogether for today—it is for the vast future also”. Climate change is the great struggle of today and for our vast future. It demands action from conservatives and progressives alike.
Fiona O’Hehir is CEO of Greenbank Environmental, Australia’s largest independent trader of renewable energy certificates and other environmental certificates. She has a technical background in electronics and power conversion for the solar industry and has been involved in the renewable energy space for over 15 years.
Fiona has spent six years as an elected industry representative on the board of the Clean Energy Council. She has just completed a two-year board position on Renewables SA and is also the Vice President of the REC Agents Association.