It is beyond debate that renewable energy has to be the future of Australia’s energy mix
It is beyond doubt that humanity is facing a climate emergency. The challenge is how effectively we respond both as a country and as members of the international community.
Across the world, climate change is manifesting in different and often unpredictable ways. However, it is clear that the poor and vulnerable will be the worst affected. Responding to this requires the leadership of the developed world, who continue to emit the most greenhouse gas emissions annually. Australia remains one of the worst offenders.
Almost a billion people live in urban slums without access to electricity. In India, for example, many access light by burning dirty and unhealthy kerosene lamps. Tragically, these lamps’ emissions are also one of the country’s largest causes of death. For those fortunate to have access to electricity, fossil fuel generation is often the source.
This is why it is exciting that renewable energy is changing the world in unprecedented ways. It is enabling even the smallest ideas to have a great impact.
About six years ago, six young Australians—Jamie, Monique, Ben, Katerina, Emma and Alexie—created a small start-up, Pollinate Energy, to replace India’s harmful kerosene lamps with a sustainable, solar energy solution. In the process, they have engaged more than 500 women; sold nearly 112,000 solar lamps; helped more than half a million people; serviced 1,235 communities; and, astoundingly, saved 30 million litres of kerosene from being burnt—which would have produced about 65,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Pollinate Energy is a small part of a much larger story of hope. Worldwide, energy independence from renewables is helping people to rise out of poverty and to improve the state of our planet.
In 2017, China installed 53 gigawatts of solar capacity—more than the US had installed since the technology became available. And in India, the Modi Government is on a mission to add more than 200 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022. While ambitious, consistent technological improvements may see this target achieved.
According to the World Bank, the cost of solar electricity is a quarter of what it was in 2009, and is set to fall another 66 per cent by 2040. This means a dollar in 2040 will buy more than double the solar electricity it does today.
By contrast, here at home we have had to contend with Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments that wave lumps of coal around parliament and champion big coal at United Nations climate talks. Many other countries are moving to swap fossil fuels with renewables as their dominant energy source, while Australia is the only advanced economy whose emissions are once again increasing.
It is beyond debate that renewable energy has to be the future of Australia’s energy mix. Last year was a record year for rooftop solar, and large-scale solar and wind energy developments. Despite this, we remain reliant on coal. And although many of us live far from where our power is generated, coal energy continues to present significant risks to the health of communities, families and individuals. We do not need another Hazelwood coal mine fire.
It is vital that we have an energy policy that recognises and anticipates these technological and market developments, our environmental obligations, and the need for a transition plan from fossil fuels to renewables.
However, it is clear that the Morrison Government has abdicated all responsibility for addressing these market and environmental realities. The Climate Change Performance Index ranks Australia 55th out of 60 countries for action on climate change. It is clear this government is more interested in causing irreversible damage to our protected wetlands and Great Barrier Reef than protecting and improving the state of our planet. Meanwhile, electricity prices have increased nearly 19 per cent in the last three years, three times faster than wage growth.
At the recent UN climate talks, the Morrison Government opted to remain silent as the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to welcome a recent United Nations IPCC report, which warned that the world needed to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C. This put Australia at odds with most countries, including the European Union, New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours.
The Morrison Government’s moral compass on climate change is now so broken that even the NSW Liberal government has begun to openly criticise its federal counterpart. By contrast, recognising the science and the precarious state of our planet, Labor has developed an energy plan that will transition us into the future. A future that the market has clearly decided will be dominated by renewables.
It includes a just transition for workers in existing generation facilities, such as coal fired power plants. It will deliver predictability, investor confidence, more renewables, cheaper power and new jobs. It will also continue to pursue the NEG, which can deliver our 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.
Climate change is the defining issue of our time.
And everyone has a role to play. By enacting positive policies on climate change and energy, governments can inspire entrepreneurism and small businesses, like Pollinate Energy, to be similarly proactive.
It is axiomatic that by taking action on climate change, reducing pollution, and investing in renewables we will bring stability to the energy market, lower power prices and lift people out of poverty. We must lead by example and promote global action.
The writer is Labor Senator for Tasmania; This opinion piece first appeared in The Hobart Mercury on 17 January