New South Wales energy minister Matt Kean called out the climate laggards stalling Australia’s embrace of clean energy technologies, saying those that defy the global transition away from fossil fuels are ignoring the power of economics and technological progress.
Kean gave an impassioned defence of his strong stance on climate action, and said wind and solar should be embraced as a cheaper alternative to coal and gas, telling a forum hosted by The Australia Institute that “you don’t need to believe in climate change to believe in capitalism.”
Kean was speaking at the launch of the think tank’s latest Climate of the Nation report, which includes the results of polling research that showed more than eight in 10 Australians think that climate change is already occurring in Australia, and support the phase-out of coal-fired power stations.
Kean said that climate change posed an environmental and a significant economic threat to Australia, and that conservatives should lead Australia’s push into clean energy industries rather than getting embroiled in partisan debates.
“Together with Japan’s announcement this week, 60 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade is now with countries who will soon be looking for cleaner alternatives to power their economies,” Kean said. “Ignoring the reality of climate change is not just a risk to our natural environment, which it is, it’s a risk to our living standards, to our jobs, and to our entire way of life.
“If that evidence is not enough to convince you on the need to take action, then even big oil and gas companies who have profited from extracting fossil fuels for decades, are planning for life beyond carbon moving to decarbonise their businesses.
“They are not doing this because they are climate alarmists. They are doing it because they are capitalists and want to ensure that they remain a going concern as the world changes,” Kean added.
To add to the Japan commitment to zero emissions, UK Tory prime minister Boris Johnson called directly on Australia to lift its game and take “bold action” and commit to “ambitious targets” on climate change.
As a minister within a Liberal government in New South Wales, Kean has attracted criticism from other conservatives for his enthusiastic embrace of clean energy technologies.
Kean rejected the notion that his views on climate action are at odds with conservative values, saying that they were more consistent with a view that markets and technologies were key drivers of innovation and change.
“World leaders of all colours took the scientific advice seriously. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher backed up action to reduce emissions. In 1992, President Bush signed the first global agreement to address climate change. My point is that climate change didn’t start out as a political issue. We made it one,” Kean said.
“What could be more conservative than protecting and handing our environment to the next generation better than we found it? What could be more important to centre-right governments in growing the economy, creating jobs and increasing our prosperity?
“This has traditionally been an article of faith for the right of the body politic. So rather than being at odds with the values at the centre-right, I’m absolutely in line with them, and it’s about time someone stood up for the centre of Australian politics in this debate,” Kean added.
Kean said it made clear economic sense for Australia to transition away from fossil fuels, with wind, solar and storage delivering supplies of energy cheaper than coal and gas, and that Australia would be left worse off if it continued to prop up the fossil fuel sector.
“Today, the cheapest way to deliver electricity into the system is a combination of wind, solar, storage, and also demand response,” Kean said. “That’s not me saying that. That’s the engineers, the scientists and the economists. That’s the CSIRO and AEMO. I think we should be listening to the people well qualified to give this advice.
“As this report shows, Australians see the change, we understand it, and we want to make sure that we reap the opportunities created for new jobs and investment,” Kean added. “We don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of megatrends like rising carbon-based protectionism while other economies steal our march in new clean technologies and industries.”
In the Climate of the Nation 2020 report, The Australia Institute surveyed around 2,000 Australians on their opinions and concerns around climate change, finding that a vast majority of Australians support a phase-out of coal-fired power stations and that two-thirds of Australians support the introduction of a net-zero emissions target for 2050.
A record-high number of respondents said that they thought that climate change was already occurring in Australia, at 79 per cent, with one of the lowest proportion of responders saying that they did not think climate change was occurring, representing just 9 per cent of those surveyed.
“Our research shows that far from dampening the call for climate action, the COVID-19 crisis has strengthened Australians’ resolve for all levels of government to take action on climate change,” TAI’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said.
“There is one clear message most Australians want more renewables and less fossil fuels. That means phase out coal fired power stations, bypass a gas-fired transition and plug into renewables to power their future.
“The catastrophic Black Summer bushfires saw Australians experience firsthand the tragic consequences of the worst impacts of climate inaction and that direct experience has only served to intensify concern for climate change and the call for decisive action to decarbonise Australia,” Merzian added.