Australia's low level of ambition ahead of next year's climate change talks in Paris reveals more than the negative effect of domestic politics on our international reputation and economic future.
The broader message to trading partners, investors and policymakers is that Australia is unwilling to change because it is unable to change. The Government's shift to 'Direct Action' as Australia's response to global warming is not only environmentally irresponsible, it is damaging to Australia's claim to be a forward-looking economy. Direct Action will not deliver. Our apparent inability to maintain a comparatively modest and entirely affordable level of ambition in setting an emissions reductions target to 2020, while the main players think about their targets beyond 2030, reveals a country that has little appetite for looking to the future. How is that in the national interest?
In stark contrast to the direction Australia is now taking, in Europe, China and the US, energy and climate-change policies are continuing to merge. As recent announcements by the Americans and Chinese would suggest, it is becoming more not less evident that, in the light of the need for global action on climate change, clean energy policy will be included in discussions between adult governments. Put simply, how we who live in industrialised countries, and how we produce and consume energy within our own borders, is now everyone's business.
The UK's Climate Change Act (2008) commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050, on 1990 levels. The UK views its contribution to global greenhouse gas mitigation to be an act of international leadership. From Planet Australia, you would have to ask, what planet are the Brits living on?
In 2011, working for the British Wind Energy Association in London, I represented the UK's onshore and offshore wind energy industry to the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change and Her Majesty's Treasury. The British are serious about implementing large-scale energy market reform in this decade to meet the targets set out in the Climate Change Act, such that the UK is in a position to avoid the higher cost later of inaction now. It has been 40 years since the last coal-fired power plant was commissioned in the UK and a large portion of the UK's current coal-fired generation will be retired over this decade. With policies such as a carbon price floor in effect, there is no possibility of coal-fired plants being replaced by new coal-fired generators. To finance this enormous shift, the UK is looking to attract at least £100 billion in investment by 2030. What is noticeable about the energy and climate debate in the UK is that greenhouse gas mitigation, energy security and economic growth are no longer separate items on the agenda.
The British and Chinese have a vision concerning how their energy sectors will need to work beyond 2020. The UK's is not a perfect vision and there is intense competition between nuclear power, offshore wind and gas as to which energy mix will deliver the most affordable decarbonisation of power generation. The essential point is that no-one in Europe or China denies the need to undertake major changes in energy production and consumption.
Australia has no coherent energy policy beyond preserving the market power of dirty, inefficient black and brown coal-fired power plants for as long as possible. In comparison with the UK, China and the US, increasingly it looks like we have few ideas and little progress on energy to offer, right at the time when energy policy across the globe is starting to join up.