Consistent with their election pledge, the Coalition government in Australia has axed all the climate change policies of their predecessors. I’m understating things when I say that I’m not sure that was such a good idea.
The Climate Commission was axed and plans are in motion to repeal other Rudd/Gillard era policies such as the carbon tax, the carbon change authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
Taking the assumption that none of this is ideal and that like it or not, action needs to occur – and as Malcolm Turnbull best said, if you want action on climate change, someone’s going to have to pay for it (i.e. the carbon price). But if you have to pick something to save, then my argument is in favour of the finance corporation.
Australia is uniquely placed in many ways to lead in the fields of green tech and alternative energies. With our abundant open space and saturation with sunlight (as a lover of grim, cold, overcast rainy days I find the latter diabolical), we should be looking into developing solar technologies and effectively harvesting that energy. Solar suffers in two main areas – the first being that the collection mechanisms aren’t as efficient at retaining energy as we’d like (both due to reflection and the energy source itself), and the second being that battery technology needs improving so that any stored energy retains its charge.
Similarly our proximity to Asia leaves us with access to a potential marketplace for cheaper, consistent energy sources. As anyone who’s spent a lot of time in Asia (both north and southeast Asia) can attest, energy consumption in this part of the world is high due to both the climate (busily compensating for >35°C/95% humidity days) and population density. Whether there is grassroots support for greentech there or not is irrelevant – cheaper, more efficient technologies that take less from a consumer’s pocket will always be attractive.
We also have the scope to invest in biofuels, learning from the US’ mistakes in this area. I am referring to the ethanol subsidy here. It is a noble idea to add incentives to produce cleaner, cheaper fuels but the side effect is that more land has been given over to fuel production than to food production. With the rising wealth in the developing world leading to increased meat consumption, and about 7kgs of grains required per 1kg of meat, the US has unintentionally undermined food security at a time when key grain producers are recovering from floods and drought. Knowing this, we can certainly learn from it in our own pursuit of biofuels.
Having a funding model that kickstarts an infant industry is, therefore, essential. Even if it pledges to match private sector funds dollar for dollar the money is essential and vital. As the Commission itself says:
“The objective of the CEFC is to overcome capital market barriers that hinder the financing, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies…The CEFC will not provide grants. It is intended to be commercially oriented and to make a positive return on its investments.“.
This approach is consistent with the Coalition’s appreciation for the power of free markets and to contemplate abolishing it seems, even in light of the current economic climate (pardon the choice of words), a myopic decision.