The new conservative government’s rephrasing and rebranding of emissions reduction and energy policies continues apace – with “cleantech” and “clean energy” now considered to be dirty words in the corridors of power in Canberra.
Climate change and carbon pricing are the other obvious phrases and words that have fallen victim to a change in power. But cleantech and clean energy are also being relegated to the sin bin as the public service seeks to oblige their new bosses by removing anything that looks remotely like an ALP/Greens policy or initiative.
The first stop was for all initiatives that bear the names of the undesired lexicon being removed. The Department of Climate Change is gone, now incorporated into the Department of the Environment, the Climate Commission is no more, and the Abbott government will legislate to dismantle the Climate Change Authority as soon as it can.
Carbon pricing, be it a tax or an emissions trading scheme, will be gone too, at least by next July, and likely replaced with an “emissions reduction fund”.
The Clean Energy Innovation Program and the Cleantech Investment Fund – both linked with Labor’s carbon pricing – are gone or going, and the Clean Energy Finance Corp will either be dismantled, or rebadged and repurposed as an adjunct to the emissions reduction fund.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt pointed out last week that Low Carbon Australia, a fund that was absorbed by the CEFC, was still a legal entity. Expect that to take on the role of what remains of the CEFC.
Meanwhile, cleantech is being removed from other government initiatives, speeches, allowable talking points and documents. Even the Australian Cleantech competition has been rebadged as the Emerging Technologies competition.
Meanwhile, phrases and names that are deemed as “problematic” such as coal seam gas, are now being adjusted to “natural gas from coal seams”. As if that will remove the controversy surrounding that technology, but with new governments the point of differentiation is not so much what is done, as what it is called.
The irony is that cleantech, and the R&D philosophy that goes with it, should fit in nicely with the new government’s philosophy, borrowed as it is from prominent climate confusionist Bjorn Lomborg’s contention that the solutions to our climate woes lie in the test tube.
Many others think at least part of the solution is actually sitting on our rooftops in the form of solar modules and other technologies that are proving disruptive to the centralised business model. But there is clearly room for more technology development that will provide even more efficient clean energy solutions and even cheaper abatement.
Still, a rebranding process is part and parcel of a change in government. John Howard’s administration did it when elected in 1996, and Tony Abbott is nothing if not a chip off the block of his mentor. Expect to see a lot of reference to resource efficiency.
“The irony is that cleantech fits in better with the new politics than it did in the past,” said one Canberra source who declined to be named. “We are likely to see the same people, even the same initiatives, but they will be called something different.”
Another put a different perspective, arguing that cleantech was poorly served by having distinct and separate programs. “Solar will need to compete with light rail for funding” he noted. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”