Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Matters of Public Importance

Renewable Energy

4:34 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

That kind of stupidity is clearly supported by Senator Macdonald from Queensland. The people who are suffering as a result of Cyclone Yasi and from the previous floods and those this year must be wondering when it is going to actually dawn on the coalition in Australia that not only are they jeopardising this generation and all future generations because of their determined ignorance on climate change but also they are denying Australia competitiveness in renewable energy. What we have heard from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank defies what coalition politicians in Australia would say, but of course that does not mirror Tory politics in the UK, for example. Let me just explain what we have for the benefit of those denialists. Just three months ago the World Bank warned that without immediate action global temperatures could rise by four degrees Celsius this century, with devastating consequences for coastal cities and, more particularly, the poor throughout the world who tend to live in low-lying countries. We are going to have impacts on Pacific Island nations and countries like Bangladesh, but also we are going to see countries suffering from food insecurity and a huge movement of people around the world as a consequence of failure to act on climate change. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said:

The time is very short. The world has to tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively. We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.

This is an issue not only about maintaining a liveable world but also about maintaining a liveable world where people can experience a reasonable life and where there can be equal opportunity and not just for rich and develop companies which have more money to try to deal with the problem. But even more money does not prevent people dying from extreme heat. We know in the Australian context, as well as in the European context, that more people are dying as a result of heatwaves than other forms of extreme weather events, and Australia is not immune. We are going to see an increase in the death rate and that is why the Australian Medical Association has come out saying we have to include them in the adaptation planning in terms of climate change.

Even regarding our economic wellbeing the fact of the matter is that we have had actuaries out in the UK saying, 'We are really concerned that the failure to factor in financial models, the impact of climate change and resource scarcity is going to lead to significant losses, and that the assets of pension schemes will effectively be wiped out and pensions will be reduced to negligible levels.' People had better start thinking about what the impacts are going to be as companies keep investing in coal, coal-seam gas and fossil fuels at the end of the fossil fuel age and fail to take into account the significant shifts that have to happen.

As I mentioned, in the UK—and I had hoped the leader of the coalition, Tony Abbott, might take some notice of this—Prime Minister Cameron said at the launch of the UK's Green Deal:

… my argument today is not just about doing what is right for our planet, but doing what is right for our economy, too. Because make no mistake; we are in a global race and the countries that succeed in that race, the economies in Europe that will prosper, are those that are the greenest and the most energy efficient.

…   …   …

And in a race for limited resources it is the energy efficient that will win that race.

…   …   …

And yes, it is the countries that prioritise green energy that will secure the biggest share of jobs and growth in a global low-carbon sector set to be worth $4 trillion by 2015.

…   …   …

So to those who say we just can't afford to prioritise green energy right now, my view is we can't afford not to.

That is David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom recognising that competitiveness and jobs growth is essential and that the essential component of that is green energy, and that is why it is disgraceful that the coalition has come out and said that it will try to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. What a disgrace that is, because it is the Renewable Energy Target that is not high enough of itself to be able to bring on the next stage of technologies. We need the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to do that.

I have just come back from Spain with my colleague Senator Ludlam where we went to solar thermal plants—the concentrated solar power which the coalition says does not exist. I can tell you that we stood there and we saw it for ourselves. We were standing in the future, except that it is right now. Why is it that we cannot have these plants in Australia? We cannot have them because there is not the vision or the preparedness to recognise we need to get off fossil fuels and on to large-scale, utility-scale solar energy as quickly as possible. As to the argument that it is not dispatchable when the sun goes down; yes it is! The Gemasolar plant that we went to has molten salt technology. It heats the salt and then it transfers the heat from the salt when the sun has gone down, so you have dispatchable energy from concentrated solar power.

If we do not do this in Australia we are going to fall so far behind. The Chinese are already the world's leading country in terms of exports of renewable energy technology and they are laying down more kilometres of high-speed rail than anywhere else in the world. We are falling behind, and if the coalition gets its way we will fall so far behind we will go back to a concentration not only on fossil fuels but also a subsidy to the hilt on those fossil fuels as they cannot compete against the renewable energy future that the world is inevitably moving towards.

I strongly urge people thinking about the election this year and about the future of this country to recognise that there is huge opportunity. There is jobs growth, there is innovation. All of these things will come from the shift to a low-carbon and then a zero-carbon economy and the rollout of large-scale solar technology and other renewable energy. We cannot afford to allow the backwardness of the coalition to stop the rollout of these technologies, to try to tear down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They will not do it because it is a statutory authority. They are required to act by the law that set them up. They will be engaged in rolling out large-scale renewables this year, and the Greens will make sure that they continue to roll those out. We will never support a repeal of the legislation that set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

We need to expand the Renewable Energy Target. We need to move as quickly as possible towards 100 per cent renewal energy, and we need to put the smiles on the faces of the next generation in Australia in terms of innovation, jobs, new technology and renewal energy. We need to let them see one of these amazing solar plants in Australia at Kalgoorlie or Port Augusta or wherever, and not have to travel to Spain or to anywhere else to see it because Australia did not have politicians with the foresight to see where the future lies. I urge the coalition to read the speech that David Cameron made in the House of Commons and realise how far to the right of Genghis Khan we have become when we have a Tory PM saying the future is in green energy and jobs.


No comments