To paraphrase Hunter S Thompson while some days in politics can be slow, “every once in a while you get a fast one, a blast of wild treachery and weirdness that not even the hard boys can handle”. Yesterday was a weird one in the climate debate but as the smoke clears real differences between the major parties are now emerging.

On the Climate Institute’s qualitative report card we see the ALP move into positive territory with 53% while the Coalition languishes at 23%.

Both parties appear to have backflipped into similar positions on post 2012 negotiations. There is furious agreement that the post 2012 agreement will reflect the soul of Kyoto, that developed countries will need to do more than developing countries, and have different kinds of commitments.

But the future doesn’t begin in 2012, it begins now. This is why Kyoto ratification is important. It will not only enhance our negotiating leadership and credibility as negotiations on international agreements hot up, it will allow Australian businesses to engage with multi billion dollar markets being generated now by the Kyoto Protocol. Our non-ratification has been estimated to be costing Australian business $3.8 billion dollars a year.

Australian business has also been handicapped in engaging with the global clean energy boom, worth almost $90 billion last year and estimated to grow almost tenfold in the next decade. The Government’s failure to build on its world-leading 1997 Mandatory Renewable Energy Target has seen businesses shut down and move offshore. The Government’s recent commitment to essentially bundle existing state schemes into a national Clean Energy Target of around 15% by 2020 was a surprising but welcome announcement, but well short of what is needed to make sure all new power generation comes from clean energy.

Yesterday’s commitment by the ALP to 20% renewable energy target in 2020 took a huge stride in that direction. On the Climate Institute’s Pollute-o-meter (tracking the pollution reduction commitments of the parties) this was the single biggest pollution reduction initiative of the election. In 2020 it represented a saving of 18.10 Mt of CO2e compared to the clean energy target’s 3.7 MtCO2e.

But the benefits are also economic. Independent modeling commissioned by the Climate Institute earlier this year demonstrated that a clean energy target, in combination with emissions trading and energy efficiency measures could save the power industry about $1.5 billion to 2050. It would also mean that between 2010 and 2030, the additional household weekly spend on electricity would also be reduced by around 50% (to an additional 3-4 per week or 0.3% of weekly income at that time).

The Clean Energy Council estimates that this will drive another $20 billion of investment and create thousands of jobs. Our own research shows jobs growth and also, perhaps ironically, that the threat to coal jobs comes not from the renewables sector but from nuclear power.

Unfortunately both parties still are tracking to substantial greenhouse pollution increases on 1990 levels in 2020, ALP now at 15% and the Government over 20%. All this when the science tells us that global pollution needs to peak and decline before 2015 and both parties now support the principle that developed countries, like Australia, will need to go earlier. So we need to see more urgency, and hopefully less weirdness, before election day.