Uncertain months ahead pending poll
AWATERSHED has been reached on climate change policy in Australia with both sides of politics committing to a carbon emissions trading regime. looming election always casts doubt over what the future holds and in the light of current opinion polls, it is possible that there might be a change of government. The forthcoming ballot is shaping up as a de facto referendum on who can be trusted to manage the economics of climate change and the whole subject has become highly charged. Yet, while there are differences in approach between the government and opposition and critical information is still to be provided by both sides, business and industry has been given a greater degree of certainty in forward planning regardless of who wins the next election.
On the one hand, the Prime Minister announced on June 3 that he would endorse the report of a task group of business leaders and departmental heads on a national carbon emissions trading system. Work will begin immediately on the system which will come into force no later than 2012 with an aspirational target to be set next year that will be reached by 2050 and interim targets to be set in 2010.
On the other hand, the leader of the opposition, Kevin Rudd, together with the states and territories, has commissioned ANU economics professor and former ambassador to China, Ross Garnaut, to examine the impact of climate change on the Australian economy and the cost of inaction — an Australian Stern Review — which will be released on 30 September 2008. Federal Labor has already committed to setting up a national emissions trading scheme and cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050 but won’t reveal interim targets until it has received the Garnaut report.
A key difference between the Coalition and Labor is that the latter are committed to mandatory renewable energy targets and to ruling out the use of nuclear power whereas the government scheme will allow business and industry to choose whatever energy source they deem best provided it reduces emissions. Labor is also committed to signing the Kyoto Protocol whereas the Coalition have pledged to meet their Kyoto targets but see the Kyoto agreement as fatally flawed because it does not include major emitters such as the US, China and India.
Overall, the federal Government has allocated $ 2.8 billion to a climate change strategy that has three prongs: to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions; to enable Australia to adapt to a changing climate; and to build an effective global response to climate change. The Government has identified a mix of voluntary and mandatory actions for the industrial sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without stifling economic growth by increasing energy efficiency and using lower emission energy.
The Low Emissions Technology Demonstration fund supports industry investment in technologies that could reduce the long- term greenhouse intensity of energy production and use. The Government has allocated $ 500m to leverage $ 1 billion from the private sector. For example, CS Energy at Biloela, in central Queensland has been given a $ 50m grant to retrofit the Callide power plant and demonstrate black coal oxy- fuel combustion with carbon dioxide capture and storage. HRL is partnering with Harbin Power Engineering ( HPE), a subsidiary of one of the largest power equipment manufacturers in China, to demonstrate integrated drying and gasification of coal at Loy Yang Bench in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, with potential carbon capture and storage. And a $ 75m grant has been made to a large scale Solar Concentrator at a 154MW power plant in north western Victoria.
The Greenhouse Challenge Plus program is a partnership between industry and government to manage and report greenhouse gas emissions. Since its inception it has achieved almost complete coverage of emissions from key sectors such as cement, aluminium and petroleum refining; and significant coverage of power generation, mining and oil and gas exploration. The program has resulted in more than 760 agreements with industry participants covering almost 50 per cent of greenhouse emissions from Australian industry and has reported over 40 million tonnes of abatement since 1995.
The Greenhouse Friendly program allows businesses to market greenhouse neutral products or services. Three energy companies have achieved Greenhouse Friendly carbon neutral accreditation for their products: AGL Greenbalance electricity; Origin Energy GreenEarth Gas; and Synergy Earth Friendly Power. Other companies to be carbon neutral accredited for their products and services include: Channel 7 Sunrise; Renewtek; BP Global Choice fuel products; two Dulux paint products; and Mystique printers.
The Renewable Energy Development Initiative supports renewable energy initiatives and 25 companies have received grants covering a wide range of technologies including solar, biomass, geothermal, wind and waste. The Solar Cities program is supporting large scale trials in Adelaide, Townsville, Blacktown and Alice Springs to test the costs and benefits of responsive energy pricing, mass installation of solar energy technology, energy efficiency measures and smart meters. Minimum Energy Performance Standards is a program that phases out a growing range of inefficient appliances and equipment such as incandescent light bulbs which will begin to disappear from shops in Australia in 2009. The Generator Efficiency Standards encourages electricity generators to move to best practice in energy generation by 2010. Energy efficiency measures have been included in the Building Code of Australia for new residential and commercial buildings.
If there is a change of government the Federal Labor party has committed to a number of measures. These include setting up a $ 500m National Clean Coal Fund; setting up a $ 500m Green Car Innovation Fund designed to generate $ 2 billion to secure jobs in the automotive industry and tackle climate change by manufacturing low emission vehicles in Australia; substantially increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target; providing $ 300 million in low interest rate loans to help make existing homes greener and more energy and water efficient; funding the $ 50m solar Home Power Plan, to allow about 12,000 Australian households to install solar panels; and making half of all Commonwealth cars environmentally friendly by 2020.