Climate and energy policy all talk, no action

The federal government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee continues to stoke controversy ahead of a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments energy council. 

With government MPs threatening to cross the floor, the white noise surrounding climate policy is becoming deafening. Under the Coalition, policies considered have included emissions trading schemes, clean energy targets and now the NEG.

For 30 years, I have worked in the fields of energy and climate change, including as a special advisor to British PM Margaret Thatcher, regional president for BP Australasia and chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and I’m at a loss to explain why this issue is stuck when the problem – and its solution – are beyond question.

However, with heated arguments being made on the merits of different energy sources (e.g. fossil fuels versus renewables), vested interests frequently trumping the common good, political slogans competing with scientific facts, what hope does the average Australian have of cutting through the noise? Amid the din, credible climate policy has disappeared into the fog.

To be clear, credible policy recognises Australia needs to reduce greenhouse gas pollution across the board. The easiest way to achieve this is to reduce emissions from the electricity sector by moving from coal and gas to renewable power. There’s no avoiding the fact that Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels are going up. Australia needs to implement climate and energy policies that rapidly and deeply slash emissions.

We can do this with readily available and proven technologies such as wind and solar power. As the cost of batteries continue to fall internationally, we can use storage technologies to make our electricity grid more modern, flexible, reliable and responsive.

Australians are already seeing the benefits from transitioning to cleaner sources of electricity. About 1.8 million households and businesses have installed rooftop solar, and businesses are taking back control of their bills with low-cost renewable energy.

Australia is already experiencing the consequences of a changing climate: worsening heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, devastating coral reef bleaching. If we do not act now, these consequences will only worsen.

The NEG is woefully inadequate when it comes to reducing the emissions directly responsible for climate change. In fact, it gets in the way of a renewable energy boom already under way thanks to the leadership of households, private enterprise, councils and state and territory governments.

Greg Bourne is a Climate Councillor and energy expert.