The Energy White Paper released last Wednesday didn’t just try and ignore global action on climate change. It actively sought to work against it.
This paper, meant to plan Australia’s energy future, showed an absolute lack of preparation for Australian energy production and use in a carbon-constrained world.
This was a paper for a time before we understood the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate. From before the boom went bust and there was no thought of the US and China agreeing to reduce their emissions. When there was no thought of China and India shifting away from Australia’s coal.
But shift they have. Both China and India have made it clear that they have little interest in continuing to import Australia’s coal, and both are investing in renewable energy.
This is in part due to the efficiency and cost of small scale solar in rural areas, and the horrendous air pollution from coal power stations.
But perhaps an even greater imperative is the economic one – both of these countries have seen the writing on the wall, and it’s not illuminated by fossil fuels.
Investment in renewable energy has risen significantly. China spent $89.5 billion on renewables in 2014, becoming the world leader in renewable energy investment.
Meanwhile, back at home, the energy white paper still supports burning brown coal for energy.
The paper also reiterates the government’s intention to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. By doing so, the government removes financial support for emerging clean energy technologies and future business opportunities at home.
Rather than adjust accordingly and support emerging industries, as China has done, Australia has done the opposite. This will be to our detriment, and potentially to the detriment of the developing nations we’re trying to get hooked on our coal.
At the same time as removing financial support for domestic clean energy and efficiency, the Energy White Paper supports financing offshore coal power stations.
The Abbott government is attempting to establish a reliance on Australian coal in countries that would be better served using renewables (as Bangladesh, India and China have done). It’s industry protectionism at a cost to some of the poorest in the world.
Using an institution like the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation to offer favourable finance to new coal generators in developing countries is creating a Dirty Energy Finance Corporation in all but name.
It effectively provides yet another subsidy to the domestic coal industry.
Rather than support renewable energy at home, and work with the international community to reduce climate pollution, the Abbott government is propping up a dying, polluting industry with those least able to afford increasing energy costs.
This will do little to provide cheap power to energy poor nations – the reason given for its inception.
Renewable energy has already been favoured over coal in rural areas of India and China, and all over Bangladesh. Small-scale, decentralised solar generation suits these areas far better than the traditional grid. The energy they produce is more reliable, as well as cleaner and cheaper than newly built fossil fuel generators.
Renewable energy provides energy security and resilience. Renewable energy generators will also stand the test of time, unlike coal generators, whose time is running out – fast.
Providing life support to big coal at the expense of developing nations will do little to appease Australia’s international trading partners, already frustrated by the Abbott government’s attempts to avoid taking climate change seriously.
As the world readies itself for the Paris COP21, committing to living within a carbon budget, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and creating low-carbon economies, the Abbott government continues on its way backwards.
The international community has urged us to act, either by ensuring climate change was front and centre at the G20 (as it should have been), by making it clear our economy can no longer rely on coal exports, and even by asking directly for strong commitments as France did yesterday (Monday).
We ignore them, as we have ignored climate change, at great risk to the economy.
The Abbott government’s continued refusal to support the renewable energy sector leaves us with nothing in place when our coal markets fail.
The energy white paper demonstrates that the Abbott government has moved beyond ignoring international action on climate change.
It is not just dismantling the framework established to address climate change. It is actively pursuing new coal markets amongst those who are in need of affordable, reliable energy. Which cannot be supplied by coal.
Gerard Drew is research director at Beyond Zero Emissions.