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Clean energy the answer to Australia's climate question

A target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 would demonstrate the Coalition is serious about delivering action on climate change ahead of the federal election.

The past few months have seen a dramatic shift in the climate change debate in Australia. After much internal angst, the Federal Coalition finally committed Australia to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and flirted with the possibility of increasing the country’s 2030 emissions targets.

However, the fact that the Coalition was only able to convince the doubters in its ranks to support net-zero by 2050, the absolute bare minimum in a global context, shows that the Liberal Party and Nationals remain divided on the question that has stumped and frustrated Australian politics for the past 15 years.

The shift in the way that climate change is considered in Australia has been remarkable, in terms of both the sudden pivot towards greater action and the speed at which it has occurred.

While much of the public debate was driven by the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the scale of the change has surprised many. In the past few months, organisations that were previously hostile to increased action on global warming have suddenly changed their tune, unashamedly embracing the need for greater action and evangelising the economic and employment opportunities of renewable energy.

The most shameless of these sudden climate converts is News Corp, an organisation that has done more to demonise renewable energy and delay action on global warming in Australia than any other. The other notable climate U-turn came from the Business Council of Australia, whose recent call for Australia to reduce its 2030 emissions by between 46 and 50% is in stark contrast to its claims made in 2018 that such a target would be “economy-wrecking”.

While it is incredibly tempting to sneer at the hypocrisy of these organisations and dismiss them as climate change charlatans, a far more pragmatic course is to welcome their new-found support and work with them to increase the momentum behind action on climate change and Australia’s renewable energy transition. The Clean Energy Council has adopted this approach through its Renewable Energy is Here Now campaign, increasing its prominence in the News Corp stable and working with the newly enlightened organisation to promote the enormous benefits of renewable energy – both for the economy and the planet.

No political relief

The size of the shift in the climate change debate seemingly caught the federal government off guard. The fact that Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially wasn’t planning to attend COP26 shows that he underestimated the groundswell of public support for Australia to play a meaningful role in the global climate change response. This left him scrambling to come up with a credible target, putting him in a difficult position with recalcitrant members of his own government on an issue that has toppled more than its fair share of Australian political leaders.

While the Prime Minister’s ability to come to an agreement with his party to commit Australia to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is a landmark in the otherwise checkered and underwhelming history of Australian climate politics, it does little to improve Australia’s reputation as an international climate laggard.

A net-zero target by 2050 is yesterday’s news in international climate circles, with the major focus at COP26 on significantly increasing 2030 targets. This was a bridge too far for the government, which was unable to get such a target past the Nationals and the Liberal hard right, leaving Australia in the same position as a climate pariah that it was in before COP26.

At the time of writing, Federal Labor is reflecting on and hasn’t yet committed to a 2030 emissions reduction target. The starting point must be the current projections based on the strong abatement that has already been delivered, largely through renewable energy and state government leadership. However, given the pace of change, the potential of renewable energy and the public demand for climate action, there will be strong expectations that Federal Labor will go a lot further than the 37% reduction already projected for 2030.

Neat answer to a tough question

Thankfully, throughout the recent debate there has been a much greater appreciation of the important role that renewable energy can play. Recent modelling by the Clean Energy Council shows that Australia could reduce its emissions by 44.5 per cent if it were to source all its electricity from renewables by 2030.

Meeting this ambitious goal would require a series of key policies, which the Clean Energy Council has outlined in its Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future. The roadmap clearly lays out the steps needed for Australia to meet all its domestic electricity demand with clean energy by 2030 across nine key elements:

  1. Electrify Australia: power the Australian economy and industry with wind, solar, hydro, bioenergy and battery storage.
  2. Empower customers and communities to make the switch to clean energy.
  3. Build a strong, smart, 21st-century electricity network.
  4. Maximise the creation of quality clean energy jobs and a local supply chain.
  5. Provide greater support and certainty for coal communities and industry as the phase-out of coal generation accelerates.
  6. Modernise Australia’s energy market and its governance for the clean energy transformation.
  7. Turbo-charge clean energy innovation.
  8. Decarbonise Australian industries using clean energy.
  9. Put Australia on a path to becoming a global clean energy superpower that exports renewable energy to Asia and beyond.

Achieving the goal of powering Australia with renewable energy by 2030 would not only put us well on the way to our target of net-zero emissions by 2050, it would also catapult us to the forefront of the global renewable energy transition and shake off our reputation as a climate laggard. It would also set Australia up to become a clean energy superpower that exports its abundant clean energy resources around the world to help facilitate the global drive towards net-zero.

The Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future provides a credible way for our politicians to significantly reduce Australia’s emissions, restore our international reputation and position us to take advantage of the growing global demand for low-carbon energy.

Whether either major party has the courage or foresight to adopt such an ambitious and visionary platform with a federal election looming is another question.

This article was originally published on Ecogeneration on 15 November 2021.