Kevin Rudd last night sought to position Labor as a leader in the debate on climate change.

Delivering the annual Fraser lecture in Canberra he promised three new initiatives:

  • $50m for an Australian Solar Research Institute in Newcastle;
  • $50m to help develop geothermal energy;
  • Australia to take an international leadership role on deforestation.

The Newcastle centre would upgrade the CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre, and among other things exploit the potential for solar thermal energy.

Rudd argued that Geothermal “has the potential to provide secure, reliable base load power and can be built within one to two years”.

He did not say (but his audience got the message) that by contrast a nuclear plant takes decades. Rudd carefully avoided entering the nuclear debate, but the implicit message of investing in such renewables is their challenge to the Prime Minister’s nuclear plans.

He had a 10 point plan for climate change:

1. International leadership on climate change (including ratifying Kyoto)

2. Develop a carbon market (including an Office of Climate Change within the Prime Minister’s Department and introduction of emissions trading)

3. Use of government purchasing to provide a market for new technologies

4. Pursuit of renewable energy

5. Assistance to families to “green their homes”, including solar panel rebates and up to $10,000 low interest loans to implement energy and water savings

6. Partnership with businesses to drive energy efficiency improvements

7. Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity protection

8. Cleaner transport, including the $500 million Green Car Challenge

9. Preparation for the future impacts of climate change, via the Garnaut review on impacts and costs of climate change and

10. Secure future water supplies.

It is a workmanlike, methodical plan rather than a burst of radical action.

Labor won’t be at risk, on the basis of this speech, of being painted deep green. It is unlikely Rudd wants that space in any case.

On the eve of the government’s own emissions trading report being finally delivered to Ministers, Rudd’s objective was a more pointed one – to show Labor as having an “action agenda” and the government as the party of delay, full of climate change sceptics.

Peter Fray

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