Australia, as has been often stated, has one of the highest per capita greenhouse emission levels in the world, and an economy that is built around our supplies in fossil fuels, particularly our coal exports. The challenge for Australia, where we throw around 200 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year as a result of burning fossil fuels, is how quickly and significantly we reduce our emissions.

The Australian government acknowledged at the Bali conference in December last year the negotiating target of 25-40% reductions for developed countries. Unless we get our own house in order, it’s hard to see how Australia can demonstrate global leadership at the next international climate change meeting.

Given this, one would have thought that one of the most pressing issues for this weekend’s 2020 Summit would be how we could rapidly move to clean renewable energy in Australia. Yet strangely enough, judging by the participants of the climate change group at the Summit, it seems the Government might still be hanging onto the false hope that geosequestration is going to save the day for coal, even though industry predictions barely have it online by 2020.

Some of the representatives that might be considered on the side of the fossil fuel lobby include:

  • Marcus Randolph, Group Executive and Chief Executive Ferrous and Coal, Member of the BHP Group Management Committee.
  • Peter Coates, Chairman of Xstrata Australia, ex- Chairman of the Australian Coal Association and non-executive director of Santos, an oil and gas exploration company
  • Paul Simshauser is CEO of Babcock & Brown Power, which owns and operates eight power stations and a coal mine
  • Elizabeth Nosworthy – chair of Queensland Water. Also non-executive director of Babcock & Brown Power. Previously Deputy Chair of the Clean Coal Technology Board.
  • Russell Caplan – Chairman of Shell, Board of Woodside Petroleum Ltd, Chairman of the Board of the Australian Institute of Petroleum
  • Gerry Hueston is the President of BP Australasia (who also manufacture solar PV)
  • Greg Bourne, who now heads up WWF but is the former head of BP, and is this week out calling for a higher government focus on geo-sequestration of carbon dioxide from burning coal

In contrast, there seem to be only two industry advocates of the renewable energy:

  • Susan Jeanes — Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Generators of Australia
  • Monica Oliphant — President of the International Solar Energy Society

One is left wondering why, with another extra 14 spaces on the panel to fill (for some reason only 86 spots out of the 100 are filled so far) the 2020 selection panel didn’t make an effort to invite people like Shi Zhengrong, a Chinese-Australian who is also the founder and chairman of Suntech power, a multi-million dollar solar company now based in China due to the lack of government support under Howard. Or Dr. David Mills, Founder, Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer of Ausra, a now Californian-based company that offers solar thermal electric power stations that provide large-scale energy.

These are the kind of people who can put solutions on the table and dispel some of the myths about renewable energy, such as the furphy that it is not able to deliver base-load energy.

Maybe it’s because the Howard Government’s policies drove some of the best and brightest in the renewable energy industry offshore and someone forgot to invite them back for this weekend’s event?

And perhaps it’s not too late for the new Government to avoid this missed opportunity to really examine the genuine solutions to climate change with experts in their field?

Peter Fray

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