The weather is in the news. So is drought. So are bushfires. And it’s all being linked to climate change. What’s the PM had to say? Well, we all recall his offerings on Four Corners just a few weeks ago:

I accept that climate change is a challenge. I accept the broad theory about global warming. I am sceptical about a lot of the more gloomy predictions. I also recognise that a country like Australia has got to balance a concern for greenhouse gas emissions with a concern for the enormous burden to be carried by consumers through much higher electricity prices, higher petrol prices, falls in GDP of too dramatic an imposition of what you might call an anti-greenhouse policy. It’s a question of balance.

That didn’t impress. So much so that it was largely ignored that the PM had also talked technology.

This week, Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, warned that significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed by the end of the century. He repeated the Government’s line that the contribution Australia can make to address this problem is largely limited by our size. He talked about carbon capture and storage. But he talked technology, too. And if we’ve got a problem, then we need technology that can solve it.

The action summary of Coal21, the national partnership to reduce and eliminate emissions from coal-fuelled power, and provide emission free fuels reads:

Fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas have driven economic and social advancement since the industrial revolution. They are also the major source of greenhouse gases that scientists believe may trigger climate change. But meeting the needs of an increasingly energy hungry world – one in which more than 2 billion people still have no access to electricity – will require continued and growing use of these fuels for the foreseeable future. Renewable forms of energy may prove to be the long-term solution, but will only account for a relatively modest albeit growing proportion of the energy mix for many decades.

Part of the solution must therefore be to minimise emissions from our use of fossil fuels during the long transition to more sustainable energy systems that will surely emerge during the course of the 21st Century. Technology holds the key, and a global RD&D effort is now gearing up in response. A number of emerging technologies hold great promise that these emissions can indeed be reduced and in some cases virtually eliminated.

Technology – or, even more, the adoption of technology that could reduce our emissions – is the real issue here. It’s becoming available. Retrofitting of power plants is possible and clean coal can be affordable.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are around 560 million tonnes. Crikey understands 200 million tonnes could be removed with this technology and smart use of renewables.

This is politically neat, too. It validates the Government’s anti-Kyoto stance. It mightn’t be as s-xy as reporting the imminent apocalypse, but surely the technology that might prevent it makes an interesting story, too.

Peter Fray

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