Run with the Wind and Renewable Energies
27 October 2014
As a keen runner, it was a great pleasure for me yesterday to say a few words at the third annual Run with the Wind community fun run at Woodlawn wind farm near Tarago, New South Wales. Situated between Tarago and Bungendore, the Woodlawn wind farm comprises 23 wind turbines and has been operating since October 2011. The fun run was hosted by the owner and operator of the wind farm, Infigen Energy, and organised by a sports and athlete management firm, Elite Energy. In the latter case, it is mere coincidence that the term 'energy' appears in the name.
The fun run is aimed at serving two main purposes: firstly, to encourage people to get fit and stay fit by completing a five- or a 10-kilometre run and, hopefully, the organisers tell me, in the future maybe even a half marathon; and, secondly, to raise awareness of the important role that wind power will have in Australia's future. Contrary to the Treasurer, who finds wind farms 'utterly offensive' and 'appalling' and has said that they are ruining the landscape, many of those in attendance beg to differ. In fact, the sight of Infigen's wind turbines serving as a backdrop to the many fit Canberrans and New South Wales residents who hit the run yesterday was a sight to behold.
I pay tribute to Frank Boland and Miles George, from Infigen Energy, for their support for the Run with the Wind. It is, as I mentioned to the runners at the start of the race, very much Australia's future, because we know that in the future Australians need to be fitter. We have to bring down those rising obesity and overweight rates, and we need to produce more of our energy using clean, green methods. And that is exactly what wind farms are doing. If the Treasurer would like to join us at the next fun run, I am sure he would be more than welcome to enjoy the aesthetic, sporting and environmental benefits of the wind farm.
This run comes at a time in which Australia is sadly slipping backwards on international rankings for tackling climate change. The Global Green Economy Index, prepared by the US consultancy Dual Citizen has Australia's performance ranked 37th out of 60 countries for actions that support clean energy and combat climate change. In contrast, in 2012 Australia was ranked 4th on the same index.
As shadow minister for climate change Mark Butler said:
Where Australia was once leading the world, developing countries such as Kenya and Rwanda are now taking more meaningful action against climate change.
In the 'Leadership' section, Australia ranks dead last. That is, on the Global Green Economy Index. This comes after the prominent New Republic magazine categorised Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper as Earth's greatest 'climate villains'. It reflects the deep concern around the globe at the Direct Action policy, which, frankly, everyone in this place knows to be a joke. The attempts to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Prime Minister's continued tolerance of anti-science rhetoric are not surprising in a government that lacks a science minister.
The Abbott government's latest moves on climate have been to attack the renewable energy target, suggesting that the renewable energy target should be set at 26,000 gigawatt-hours rather than at 41,000 gigawatt-hours. The renewable energy target has always been set in terms of gigawatt-hours rather than as a share of production. One can hardly imagine that if energy demand had been increasing rather than decreasing there would be claims that the RET ought to be increased to be a so-called real 20 per cent. What a so-called real 20 per cent claim means is that effectively there will be a 40 per cent cut in the renewable energy target. That comes off the back of clear evidence that jobs in the sector have tripled. There has been $18 billion in investment, and the number of homes with solar panels have increased to 1.3 million.
In September 2013, Australia was ranked in the top four most attractive places to invest in renewable energy, with the US, China and Germany. But, since the Abbott government's political interference with the renewable energy target, since its establishment of a renewable energy target review, headed by a prominent climate sceptic, we have fallen down to 10th. Even that review, headed by a climate sceptic, found that the renewable energy target would drive down power prices over the medium term. So the Abbott government is seeking to wind back the renewable energy target, a policy we know to be reducing emissions and putting downward pressure on power prices.
Labor is working to restore the bipartisanship that has existed for a decade over the renewable energy target, and that frankly could continue to exist if Mr Abbott would stick to his election promise not to touch the RET, and his commitment to 41,000 gigawatt-hours.
The discussion about climate change is occurring in a context in which other nations are realising the threat and taking sensible action. A recent report by the Pentagon has noted that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risk from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortage. The US Department of Defense will soon begin integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, including war games and strategic military planning. When recently speaking to a meeting of defence secretaries in Peru, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said:
The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline and trigger waves of mass migration.
The time for childish things has passed. It is vital that all of us in this place recognise the danger of unchecked climate change and commit to policies that will deal with it.
A new declaration, signed by 74 countries and more than 1,000 businesses has called for a global price on carbon. The declaration, released in September, was signed by China, Shell, Dow Chemical and Coca Cola. It calls on all nations to enact laws encouraging carbon pricing in order to check carbon pollution. As World Bank vice president for sustainability, Rachel Kyte,has said:
The most powerful move that a government can make in the flight against climate change is to put a price on carbon.
Now there are around 40 countries that have implemented carbon pricing, while there are dozens more which are exploring it. As Robert Stavins of Harvard has noted:
There is increasing recognition that approaches that have been taken in the past haven't worked, and that the only way one can affect the hundreds of millions of decisions is through price signals.
It is ironic that in nominally communist China there are seven pilot cap-and-trade programs operating in provinces covering millions of people. Yet the nominally free market Liberal and National parties in this country continue to oppose a market based approach to climate change. The danger is real, and when I see parliamentarians in this place attacking the Bureau of Meteorology and putting their cheap political point-scoring ahead of good evidence based approaches to tackling climate change, I hang my head. The coalition must accept that a Direct Action plan which raises taxes on households in order to give money to polluters is a shadow carbon tax. The way in which it operates is that it achieves abatement by taxing households. But it achieves abatement in a highly inefficient manner. If the work were done—and of course no cost-benefit study has been done on Direct Action—it would likely reveal that, for every tonne of carbon pollution abated through Direct Action, the effective tax on Australian households is hundreds of dollars. Direct Action is a dog of a plan. I call on this government to support the international consensus on the dangers of climate change and the need for a market based mechanism to tackle it.