The Government’s proposal for a “Australian Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute” is either a stunt or they haven’t done their homework properly.

There’s already an international carbon capture body just like the one proposed by Kevin Rudd and Martin Ferguson on Friday. The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum was established by the Bush Administration in 2003, as part of its attempt to suggest if there was such a thing as climate change — and of course there wasn’t — it should be dealt with via new energy technologies that meant we didn’t have to do anything about our patterns of consumption or sources of energy.

The Howard Government signed up to it, of course. So did a number of major coal producers, as well as the Indians, the Chinese and the Europeans.

The CSLF is aimed at coordinating carbon capture research, bringing industry and governments together, identifying obstacles such as intellectual property issues, promoting “technical, political, and regulatory environments” for carbon capture, and addressing public perceptions.

The Prime Minister’s initiative will “facilitate” carbon capture projects, coordinate research, address regulatory and legislative questions, and disseminate information about carbon capture.

The biggest difference is that the Americans run the CSLF, but Rudd and Ferguson want their version based in Australia.

The coal industry welcomed the announcement on Friday, having been summoned to Canberra for it. But industry insiders were dismissive of it, although no one would bag it publicly.

It’s clear that the Government is dead keen on carbon capture. It’s the perfect mechanism to address climate change without upsetting either resources companies or the CFMEU. The Government will have enough difficulties with unions over its new IR laws and the retention of the ABCC until 2010. Getting unions offside on climate change starts to look like a war on two fronts.

The problem with carbon capture isn’t that the technology hasn’t been developed properly and we don’t know if it works on an economic scale or not. If you place it on a spectrum of available technologies, it’s down toward the back end along with geothermal and tidal power. Other technologies like solar, nuclear and wind are far more advanced, although nuclear is prohibitively expensive and takes forever to get going.

If we’d started investing in carbon capture research in the 1990s, it might be a lot closer to viability. But we’ve waited so long to pull our finger out and start looking at our reliance on carbon-based energy that we don’t have time to develop new technologies from scratch.

The dead giveaway in all this is who is spruiking this carbon capture investment. The US Department of Energy provides the secretariat for the CSLF. Most of the signatories to the CSLF charter were ministers for energy or resources, including our own Ian MacFarlane. This new Australian version is being pushed by Martin Ferguson and the Department of Resources and Energy. It’s the climate change holdouts in each country that are pushing carbon capture in the hope they can stave off the switch to renewables.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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