Australian workers and Australian factories could finally be about to get on the job cementing Australia’s place at the front of the global clean energy powered industrial revolution. Worldwide the clean energy industry already employs more people in renewable energy industries than directly employed in oil and gas. Realising this vision will depend on what happens in the political factory of the Senate. Will it fine tune or frustrate?

The last couple of weeks has seen Australian governments shift some big gears. National and state governments agreed to energy efficiency and renewable energy changes and the Rudd Government’s Budget now joins changes to its carbon pollution reduction scheme. Next month the Senate factory floor will go to work on proposals that could unleash tens of billions of dollars of investment in energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal and carbon capture and storage jobs and industries.

Importantly this investment won’t just be in research or small pilot projects which has so often seen Australian know-how, particularly in solar technology, go overseas for industrial realisation and profit.

It’s time politicians and big polluters stopped arguing or seeking excuses for inaction and got on with the job.

Two weeks ago COAG finally agreed to Commonwealth legislation merging state renewable energy schemes into a national scheme that will seek to produce 20% of our energy from renewable energy. Industry analysts suggest that this will stimulate almost $20 billion private investment in wind, bioenergy and geothermal renewable power. Last night’s budget foreshadows $4.5 billion investment in breakthrough technologies that won’t be encouraged by that scheme alone — large scale solar or carbon capture and storage.

This completes a cost and risk effective strategy that the Climate Institute has been advocating for years. We should aim to hit 2020 with a mixed portfolio of industrial scale clean energy solutions in operation. We need to hedge our investments in case one or more of the promising clean energy technologies of solar, geothermal or carbon capture and storage don’t work. The more technologies we have in the tool kit the easier it will be to meet scientifically credible emission reduction targets.

Combining these investment incentives with the emissions trading scheme of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is now potentially better targeted and more transparent, sends immediate investment signals that the path to sustainable prosperity does not lie in dirty energy investments. The extra assistance and delay for the start of the CPRS is regrettable but doesn’t change those investment signals and does mean there are now no more excuses for further delay.

There has been commentary that the conditions for the Government to shift to a 25% reduction target are onerous. It is our view that they are realistic for the challenging task at hand. Getting an agreement that can stabilise greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million or lower in the atmosphere that the Government and many scientists agree is in our national (and humanity’s) interest is a very challenging task. Indeed we need to go lower and the key to that is turning around rising pollution as soon as possible. It is perhaps an inconvenient truth that those conditions, requiring significant action from all nations and with extra protection of forests and peatlands, reflect that reality.

The credibility of the Prime Minister’s new targets faces key tests in coming weeks as we head to crucial negotiations with other nations next month in Europe. Getting an effective global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December will depend on developed countries not only having ambitious targets but also investment and other mechanisms to assist developing countries achieve their commitments and clean up their economic growth.

Like the investments foreshadowed in the Budget, these would be smart investments. Much of our recent prosperity has been built on the growth in our regions. Having plans to ensure future growth in our region is powered by clean energy will help us to avoid the worst of the climate crisis. Having those plans backed by the investment incentives and policies about to enter the Senate will mean that growth, and Australia’s low carbon economic recovery, can be built on the floors of Australian factories with Australian jobs.

That future will depend on what happens on the factory floor of the Senate.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey