Investing in a sustainable future
Speech to the Global Windpower conference
Adelaide, 21 September 2006
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It’s a great pleasure to speak to your annual conference again.
I’m also pleased to acknowledge that my friend and colleague, the Labor member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas is here today.
Last year when I spoke to your conference in Manly, I made it very clear that Labor had a strong ongoing commitment to renewable energy.
Australia desperately needs strong, responsible national leadership so it can seize the economic benefits of the worldwide push to clean, renewable energy.
Strong action over climate change is vital for Australia’s economic future.
This is not a question of Right or Left. It is a question of right and wrong. It’s about old ways or new paths.
Over the last 12 months, the evidence and impacts of climate change have become even clearer.
The political debate over how to deal with climate change is at a tipping point.
Like those in the professional denial industry who held out about tobacco for so many years, the climate change sceptics are falling.
There is a consensus in the scientific community, and the evidence is getting pretty stark, that climate change is happening right now and impacting on Australia’s economy and environment.
The Bureau of Meteorology says 2005 was the hottest year on record.
Australia has just had the driest winter on record in some parts of the country, and the Bureau of Meteorology has just reported we’ve just had the hottest and driest August in 106 years.
And we’ve had a drought that has gone on for a decade.
Interviewed on ABC radio’s PM program two weeks ago, the Head of the Bureau of Meteorology’s National Climate Centre, Dr Michael Coughlan, said he believes that climate change is one of the main reasons for the long trend of dry weather.
Dr Coughlan says the persistent downward trend in rainfall and upward trend in temperature was “alarming” and that, in the Bureau’s words, "it’s very hard to find some other reason other than global warming for what is causing this”.
Australia urgently needs strong leadership to support clean, renewable energy as part of a national strategy to avoid dangerous climate change.
It is appalling that, when land use changes are excluded, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 25.1% between 1990 and 2004.
Australia’s emissions are still rising rapidly, and it is reckless for Australia not to have a national climate change strategy and greenhouse reduction target.
In the absence of national leadership on renewable energy and climate change, State & local Government, companies and key community groups are filling the leadership void.
Last night in Sydney, General Electric launched its Ecomagination project for Australia.
GE will be pouring $1.5 billion annually into clean energy technologies around the world.
It is great that a company with the size and reputation of General Electric is serious about the environment and working to produce commercial, low emission products.
And on Tuesday this week the AFL took strong action and showed some leadership in the effort to avoid dangerous climate change.
Labor welcomes that the AFL will become carbon-neutral and buy offsets to negate the carbon pollution from its games and business activities.
While John Howard remains on the sidelines, the AFL has kicked a goal against climate change.
And following the AFL’s lead, Collingwood will also offset all its greenhouse emissions.
Just imagine if every local tennis, footy, cricket and golf club made that commitment. I ask you, why not?
I’m sure most of you have seen Al Gore’s excellent documentary on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth”.
I went to see the premiere of the documentary with Kim Beazley, and I’ve seen it twice elsewhere.
Al Gore’s documentary outlines the scientific consensus that climate change has led to a significant increase in both the duration and intensity of hurricanes, and a drop in rainfall in agricultural areas.
I agree with Al Gore when he referred to the possible consequences of climate change as being “the most dangerous crisis we’ve faced so far”.
Al Gore’s view was that humanity has “10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet’s climate system into a tailspin of epic destruction, a catastrophe of our own making”.
It is quite interesting and very illuminating to see the reaction of scientists, the media and politicians to Al Gore’s documentary.
The science behind the documentary has been publicly and unanimously endorsed by the experts.
And last week, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in London lined up squarely behind Al Gore. The Sun’s front page carried headline “Man the lifeboats!”
And the Sun then asked its readers in about 36 point “Will your town be under water if global warming takes hold?”
By logging onto the Sun’s website you could see “How our environment is changing”, How global warming could change the map of Britain” and whether “you’ll be under water”.
The Sun’s editorial stated:
"Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible: Searing summers and dry winters in the UK; increasingly frequent tornados and hurricanes worldwide; the shrinking Arctic ice cap."
The scientific assessment of Al Gore’s documentary is consistent with the Howard Government’s own Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Report published last year.
In fact, on Channel 10’s Meet the Press program last Sunday morning the Minister for Environment, Senator Ian Campbell – a man pretty familiar to everyone in the wind industry – stated:
My most respected scientists concur with me that the science in Vice President Gore’s movie is sound and solid. It’s based on fact and the consequences of not addressing the problems that Vice President Gore has identified are very substantial.
However, the Prime Minister John Howard said he was “sceptical” about the “gloomy” climate change predictions.
The Minister for Industry and Resources, Ian Macfarlane, who is also a climate sceptic, said he thought the documentary was “just entertainment, that’s all it is”. When I asked in Parliament what exactly was entertaining about Hurricane Katrina the minister’s response was to attack Al Gore and the Labor Party.
Perhaps it is politically convenient to try and shoot the messenger, but in this case that wasn’t so smart as he may be the next President of the USA.
And if Al Gore doesn’t run, other leading contenders, such as Republican front-runner John McCain, have made clear their support for Kyoto style cap and trade systems for greenhouse gases.
I do not know on what evidence the Prime Minister and his flat-earth Industry Minister are so sceptical about climate change – certainly not the science, certainly not expert advice from the CSIRO, and certainly not anyone from the Bureau of Meteorology.
I can only presume the Prime Minister is sceptical because he prefers ignorance to reality.
The Prime Minister’s denial over climate change may come at a significant cost for Australia.
John Howard is ignoring the inconvenient truth.
Last week in Parliament the Prime Minister tried to dismiss the scientific consensus about climate change as “alarmist”.
And, in case you missed it, on ABC radio’s AM program last Thursday, in one of the more unusual analogies I’ve ever heard, Minister Ian Campbell compared the threat of climate change to the Y2K bug. I kid you not.
On the one hand, a perceived threat at one particular point in time that did not happen. On the other hand, a real and present danger to this and future generations. How absurd.
In the next breath this bloke then proclaims the Howard Government is “leading the world on climate”. Sure, and Philip Ruddock’s amnesty international badge reflects the Howard Government leading the world on the treatment of asylum seekers.
While the Howard Government is sceptical about climate change, the inconvenient truth is that John Howard has isolated Australia from global action on climate change, increasing the risk of environmental and economic damage to Australia.
Reports this week that George Bush is preparing for an astonishing U-turn on climate change policy are interesting.
Since 2002, George Bush and John Howard have ridiculed calls for greenhouse emission reduction targets.
John Howard’s opposition to greenhouse emission reduction targets has been a fundamental part of his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.
In fact, on 11 August 2005 in a formal Joint Ministerial Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Environment when announcing the Asia Pacific Climate Pact, the Howard Government tied its colours to the mast. In that statement they said in relation to international frameworks on climate change:
“We will not be seeking to impose arbitrary targets, mandatory policies or artificial timeframes”.
However, the issue of climate change is increasingly in the spotlight, and Karl Rove and John Howard’s spin-team probably feel they need to neutralise growing concern over their Government’s inaction over climate change.
The truth is, if the American President ticked off Kyoto or emission reduction targets today John Howard would probably do it tomorrow.
The Howard Government’s recent confusion over climate change science and policy is sadly just another episode in its hopeless and backward approach to climate change.
Even Monty Python couldn’t have scripted Senator Ian Campbell’s decision in April 2006 to protect one theoretical parrot every 1,000 years and block the Bald Hills wind farm project in Victoria.
The Environment Minister’s decision was absurd and must be reversed.
On 10 March, Senator Campbell’s own department recommended the project be approved and found “no direct evidence of any impact on the orange bellied parrot at Bald Hills”.
The decision to block the Bald Hills project was all about marginal seat politics and not about the orange bellied parrot.
And yesterday, after the company proposing the Bald Hills wind farm had made a submission to the Minister as was agreed in court, the Minister has called for public comments on the company’s submission. This game of political table tennis could go on forever!
The process over the Bald Hills wind farm has descended further into farce, with the extra-ordinary decision by the Minister not to make a decision.
The Howard Government’s inconsistency over wind farms is a threat to investment in the renewable energy industry.
Decision making must be based on science – not politics – to ensure the integrity of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is not undermined.
Previously, five wind farms were approved with management plans for parrots.
The Minister’s political use of Commonwealth environmental laws over the Bald Hills wind farm sends a strong signal that the Commonwealth will intervene in infrastructure projects for political, rather than sound scientific reasons.
The Environment Minister says he’s concerned the wind farm may threaten the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot, but climate change will devastate our biodiversity.
According to the Science journal, Nature, more than 90 Australian animal species are at risk from climate change.
Instead of blocking clean energy projects, the Howard Government should seize the economic opportunities of the worldwide push to clean, renewable energy.
The head of the Australian Wind Energy Association, Dominique La Fontaine was right to recently state that the Victorian Renewable Energy Target and South Australia’s commitment to renewable energy were progressive policies that would address climate change.
State Governments are showing leadership in the absence of leadership from the Federal Government.
We have seen this in relation to emissions trading and, increasingly, we are seeing this in relation to renewable energy.
The expansion of renewable energy is vital for avoiding dangerous climate change and presents significant economic opportunities.
Climate change demands that environmental issues are central to the future of Australia’s economic sustainability.
Considerable progress has been made in understanding that human activity must be in harmony with our natural resources, rather than being seen as autonomous and without consequences.
The first wave of environmentalism was very much about conservation. Campaigns were run to protect our natural heritage – saving old growth forests, protecting rivers.
The emphasis on conservation then progressed to government regulation to stop pollution and regulate behaviour of individuals and corporations in the interest of agreed environmental objectives.
Important gains were made, but climate change has brought forward the need to go beyond conservation and regulation.
The third wave of environmental policies involves investment in sustainability, and developing the economic structures required to promote that investment.
Those structures must include targets and benchmarks which encourage investment in sustainable industries and renewable energy.
The next Labor Government can achieve substantial reform by getting the price of our natural resources right.
Labor takes a consistent approach to developing an appropriate price signal for our natural resources.
While the Prime Minister loudly trumpets his support for a price signal and trading as the best way to conserve and appreciate water, he dismisses the need for a price signal for carbon.
While most of the clean energy and energy efficiency technologies are already available to deliver significant cuts to Australia’s spiralling greenhouse gas emissions, the Howard Government has rejected market instruments to ensure these technologies are deployed.
There is a direct connection between our water and climate change, and there is a synergy between developing trading systems for water and carbon.
If we promote market based solutions with pricing that reflects the finite nature of our natural resources then significant productivity and environmental gains can be achieved.
The discussion paper released in August for a State based emissions trading system is a significant step forward – especially in the absence of action at the national level.
Emissions trading is the least cost way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an essential component of protecting our access to clean water.
What is needed from Government are drivers of new technology and policies which promote the take up of renewables.
Relying solely on the development of technology, without economic reform to accelerate its application, is like trying to empty a puddle while the tap is still running.
Indeed, it is a triumph of hope over experience.
Labor is committed to deliver an emissions trading scheme on a national level.
If we deliver the right signals, provide the right incentives within a well developed and supported regulatory framework, I believe the market will deliver.
Last year at your conference in Sydney, I stated that “the time to act was now”.
It is no exaggeration to say that the 12 months since then have meant Australia is further isolated from international action on climate change.
Because of delays, Australia is further behind at further cost to our economy.
Labor’s climate change policies
Labor has made our approach to Climate Change very clear.
Labor believes Australia needs to be part of the ongoing and dynamic global effort against climate change by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which will continue well beyond 2012. Given Australia is on track to meet our Kyoto Protocol target, there is no logical reason for Australia to remain outside the international framework
Ratifying Kyoto and taking early action on climate change would be good for the Australian economy.
The Report released by the Australian Business Round Table on Climate Change comprising Westpac, Origin, the Insurance Australia Group, BP, Visy & Swiss Re found that early action to address climate change would mean 250,000 more jobs will be created than if we delayed.
With the appropriate mechanisms and support, it is clear that the Australian renewable energy industry can become the focal point for our region.
Australia has the potential for a stronger renewable energy industry, yet Government inaction has seen our jobs lost or jobs go overseas, and our renewable energy market isolated.
Only last month, the Vestas Nacelle wind turbine assembly plant in northern Tasmania announced it would be closing as a direct result of Howard Government policies against clean, renewable energy.
100 jobs were lost in northern Tasmania because of the refusal to increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.
100 families in North West Tasmania are suffering because of the Howard Government’s failure to support renewable energy.
In July this year, the Roaring 40s wind energy company announced a $300 million deal to provide three wind farms to China.
Around the same time, Roaring 40’s announced they would not be proceeding with wind power projects in Tasmania and South Australia because of a lack of Federal Government support.
It is appalling that Australian renewable energy companies are welcomed in China, but not Australia.
Of course China has a renewable energy target of 15%, compared to our pathetic 2% target.
This is another sign that Australia is being left behind.
It’s another sign the Howard Government is out of touch on the issue of climate change.
Instead of blocking clean energy projects, the Howard Government should support energy efficiency and seize the economic opportunities of the worldwide push to clean, renewable energy.
There is a trillion dollar industry emerging globally in renewable energy technologies.
Instead of his outdated and unwanted policy of building nuclear reactors, John Howard should support our clean energy industries and cut our greenhouse pollution.
If we are to grow our renewable energy industry effectively and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need a regulatory frame work that allows the market to operate with certainly.
We need effective incentives to drive investment.
Getting Australia’s energy mix right is absolutely central to dramatically cutting our soaring greenhouse pollution.
We need a diverse energy mix, a portfolio of flexible energy strategies that include clean coal technology, solar and wind power and research into hydrogen, wave power and geothermal technology.
We also need a strong national commitment to energy efficiency.
Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets are part of this solution. MRET seeks to diversify our electricity mix and contribute towards greenhouse gas abatement in the long term. MRET is needed to ensure there is incentive and viability for the renewable energy industry.
The theory behind MRET is right and it works.
But the Howard Government has set the bar too low.
As the current Mandatory Renewable Energy Target has effectively been reached, we are restricting our capabilities. This is an irresponsible approach.
Avoiding dangerous climate change means we must have long term vision, ambitious targets and multiple solutions. Small targets mean small returns.
Labor’s Climate Change Blueprint provides a responsible plan for a world beating renewable energy industry.
• Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol;
• Cutting Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60% by 2050;
• Establishing a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme;
• Substantially increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target; and
• Establishing a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Labor believes that the renewable energy sector needs the incentives MRET delivers to lock in future growth.
We support substantially increasing MRET and will be announcing details of that increase closer to the next election. It will be a stronger target than our previous policy of a 5% MRET.
We will be working closely with industry, scientists and other stakeholders to develop a new MRET target which is real, achievable and provides a genuine and substantial boost to the renewable energy industry.
In addition to the major policy initiatives announced in our Climate Change Blueprint, we have announced a number of prudent, practical measures that will provide a real boost to the renewable energy industry.
We will ensure all of Australia’s 10,000 schools are solar schools.
Labor will work with State, Territory and local governments to make 5 star energy efficiency provisions are mandatory for new homes.
We will consider expanding the First Home Owners’ Grant, with top-up grants for home buyers related to the energy rating of their homes.
We will examine ways to reconfigure the incentives and disincentives in our tax system to encourage more investment in clean and renewable energy technologies.
In addition, Kim Beazley’s Innovation Blueprint outlined a series of initiative to kick start the next generation of private sector innovation and reform research and development investment arrangements.
Labor will also rebuild Australia’s great research institutions, including the CSIRO.
These initiatives will provide a real boost for the development and commercialisation of renewable energy technology.
Labor has the vision, the ideas and the energy to build a brighter future for Australia’s renewable energy industry.
This is certainly a critical time for the renewable energy industry in Australia.
The industry is at the crossroads.
Investing in and developing the renewable energy industry is an important part in Labor’s nation building plan.
Building the capacity, strength and size of the renewable energy industry is one of the best things we can do to create sustainable jobs and avoid dangerous climate change.
As Al gore has pointed out, the Chinese expression for crisis consists of two characters – the first is a symbol for danger, the second is a symbol for opportunity.
Just as the climate change crisis presents an economic, social and environmental danger, it is true that it also presents an opportunity to ensure continued economic growth in a carbon constrained economy.
To do that, Australia needs a strong, competitive and significantly larger renewable energy industry.
The Labor Party is committed to working with the renewable energy industry to ensure Australia plays its part in the global challenge to avoid dangerous climate change.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.