Many people ask me why the nation’s politicians are letting climate change dominate the political debate when people are so much more concerned about jobs, paying the mortgage, feeding the kids, and working hard to provide for their retirement years. Particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.
It’s a good question because in the year to September 2019, Australia’s emissions per capita were around 40 per cent lower than they were in 1990. It also revealed that the emissions intensity of the Australian economy was down almost 63 per cent from 1990 levels.
When people think about carbon output, they think electricity generation. But there are many other contributors. For example, trucks and earthmoving equipment that once spewed black smoke everywhere are now fitted with anti-pollution devices.
Farmers are changing their agricultural practices. Our manufacturers are saving money by becoming more energy efficient. Australians are world leaders in placing solar panels on their rooftops, a rate that has surprised us all. More and more, people are buying electric or hybrid cars. We are all choosing white goods and electrical appliances with the best energy efficiency ratings.
But energy companies have been busy too. Wind and solar farms are popping up everywhere and the projects are big in scale. The rate of growth would be even faster if the electricity grid could take more renewable-generated electrons. But that can’t happen without the additional firming power required to keep the system stable as our older coal-fired generators reach the end of their physical lives and withdraw. That’s the other thing happening regardless of government action; coal generation now struggles to compete with renewable generation and the most recently built coal generators will be the last to be retired.
Like the rest of the world, Australia must take meaningful action on climate change, and we are. Of course, we could do more. But to do more we need leadership from politicians. We need to ditch the partisanship and the climate wars perpetuated by both the political left and right.
This is the essence of the twenty-year-long irrational climate change contest. Left combatants see advantage in overstating the threat while the right see opportunity in an economic scare campaign. The climate wars must end, they are counter-productive and self-indulgent. The Greens would have no platform without the climate fight and the far-right would lose its key economic scare campaign. Neither is prioritising the national interest.
Australian industry long ago gave up on waiting for the national Parliament to act, and to act without retreat as it did in 2013. They are not just acting and chasing cost-saving efficiencies now, they are also planning. Having embraced the aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2050, they are investing heavily in the technologies of the future: hydrogen, battery storage and carbon capture and utilisation, just to name a few.
Next time you hear a politician say the “transition is real and inevitable”, you should tell them they’re spot on. But offer them no thanks, they’ve been nothing but a brake on meaningful climate change action.