Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s climate change speech this morning was thin on details, big on generalities. It included $1 billion for a new electricity grid to feed in renewables, but over 10 years, a Citizen’s Assembly and a Climate Change Commission.

Here are highlights from Ms Gillard’s speech:

Climate change just might be real

“With climate change, the number of droughts could increase by up to 40 per cent in eastern Australia, and up to 80 per cent in south-western Australia within the next six decades,” Ms Gillard said.

“Without action to reduce our pollution, irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin is projected to fall by over 90 per cent by 2100.

“About 85 per cent of Australians live in coastal regions.

“Just under 250,000 residential buildings, worth up to $63 billion, will be at risk from sea inundation if the sea-level were to rise by 1.1 metres.

“Coastal industries, such as the tourism industry, will also face increasing challenges with climate change.”

But, under Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Ms Gillard said, “pollution levels would “still increase by an estimated 13 per cent – not reduce by the five per cent promised,” Ms Gillard said.

In any case: “Australia’s electricity generation is projected to grow by nearly 50 per cent between now and 2030 to meet growing demand.”

Consultation

As flagged, Mr Gillard promised a more consultative approach, headed by a Climate Change Commission, “to explain the science of climate change and to report on progress in international action.”

And a Citizens’ Assembly, “to examine over 12 months the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions.”

It’s an investigation in whether climate change exists. Again.

And whether a market-based approach is best. Again.

But Ms Gillard already seems sold on a market mechanism: “The second commitment I will give today is that, if we are re-elected, I will use the CPRS as the basis for this Citizens’ Assembly and community consultation on the way forward in reducing pollution through a market mechanism.  In doing so, I recommit to the need for a market mechanism.”

All this means Ms Gillard would act, “When the Australian economy is ready and when the Australian people are ready.”

But it’s a bob each way: “Just as I will not rush headlong into economy-wide changes that people are not familiar with; neither will I hold back actions that could move us forward from today to create a cleaner, more efficient future.

And there are inducements for business.

“To give industry certainty about future investment, the Government will ensure that emission baselines for industry assistance will not be increased – they will be as determined under the CPRS.

“Retaining these baselines will ensure that any efforts undertaken by a business now to cut pollution will be rewarded.  Retaining these baselines will encourage action early rather than causing businesses to delay action until a market mechanism is introduced.

Ms Gillard announced a set of principles around sustainability and avoiding reliance on old technology but the language is highly measured: it’s about trying, not ensuring, or promising.

Labor would  “seek to avoid locking in investments and technologies which lengthen our dependence on high pollution energy sources.

“All new power stations will have to meet best practice standards for their carbon emissions.”

[Those words again: “best practice; not what we need to do, but what’s best among a sorry bunch of coal fired power station competitors.]

“New coal fired power stations would also have to be carbon capture and storage ready, capable of being retrofitted to capture and store the pollution caused by burning coal.”

[Capable of being retrofitted? Not actually retrofitted?]

And it’s consultation again:

“The new standards will be determined by Government following a process of consultation open to all the key stakeholders, including technical experts, energy market institutions, industry and environmental groups.”

But, hopefully: “Our starting point for this consultation will be that the new standards should encourage better emissions performance than the level referenced under the CPRS.  And that they should enable advances in clean coal technology to contribute to our future electricity supply.

“This means that we would never allow a highly inefficient and dirty power station to be built again in Australia.”

[But “clean” ones are OK?]

And, importantly: “These new standards will not apply to existing projects or to projects which have been committed to when the standards come into effect.”

[Expect a rush to approval for any new plants on the drawing boards.]

New, adding to the 20 per cent  Renewable Energy Target, and the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships Program:

“Today I announce that, if elected, the Australian Government will contribute up to $1 billion over 10 years to the investment needed to connect our electricity grid to new sources of renewable energy.”

[Good news…but 10 years?]

“This is a transitional step, towards a National Energy Market which fully factors in the long term costs of carbon pollution that are now widely expected.”

And: “We will invest $100 million to support market-based  projects developing renewable technologies through ACRE, the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy.”

Ms Gillard said the announcements today were the framework for climate change action through a Labor Government.

“I will have more to say in the coming days about these actions and how the Australian Government will support them.

“But for now, let me conclude with these thoughts.

“Australia has faced big challenges before.

“And Australians have risen to those challenges time after time.

“Governments cannot take away responsibility from the community for meeting these challenges, daunting they may be.

“Australians do not want that responsibility taken away.

“Neither do they want Government to hide its head in the sand and hope that the issue will somehow go away.

“I believe that Australians want to look forwards with confidence and optimism and then to work together – and do their bit –  to get the work done that they recognise is needed.

“We are more than capable of rising to that challenge. We can make these important changes.  We can get this done. Australians know this issue is real.

“So they want to see actions that make a difference.And leadership that builds deep and lasting consensus.

“If we face up to this challenge, if we work carefully and methodically, and if we give support to Australians to make the changes that are necessary, then I am confident that we can move forward together.

“Thank you.”

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

The Fifth Estate – We can’t wait for the future