Climate change is a spur for massive economic development, says minister Bowen
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: Excerpt of a speech by Federal Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen to the Sydney Institute:
I’ve held a lot of ministerial portfolios over the years. This is, in my view, by far the most important of them. It’s the most important job I’ve ever had, and one I relish every day.
The stakes are high. Climate change is an existential threat to our health, our environment, our economy, our national security.
One example as to why it is so important that climate change be tackled was when our country was ravaged by bushfires in 2019 and 2020. If climate change continues unabated, the conditions that led to those firestorms will be the average climactic conditions by the 2040s. By the 2060s, the conditions of 2019-20 will be regarded as a “good year”.
We can’t let that happen.
Conversely, action on climate change is arguably the biggest economic opportunity for our country in the next two decades.
For 235 years we have been in search for comparative advantage. Renewable energy is probably the biggest chance for comparative advantage we have ever been presented with.
The task is massive. The world’s transition to renewable energy is the biggest economic change since the Industrial Revolution.
The responsibility of putting downward pressure on energy prices for household budgets and the viability of Australian businesses, particularly energy hungry manufacturing, within this complex environment, is not one I take lightly.
This task is encapsulated by the concept of the energy trilemma: the imperative for affordability, security and emissions reduction.
The good news is, the answer to each element of the trilemma is the same: a transition to the cheapest form of energy, renewable energy which is much faster and much more orderly than it has been over the last decade.
I want to spend a few moments on one of the most urgent challenges we have faced across the economy: dealing with sky-rocketing global energy prices.
One of the most significant global repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the impact on the global energy market.
The Russian invasion has had devastating impacts on energy security with much of Europe held captive over the supply of oil and gas from Russia. It has also had severe impacts on energy affordability. The World Economic Forum found that the conflict nearly doubled household energy costs.
Despite our distance from the conflict, Australia has not been immune. These pressures transformed into the greatest global energy crisis since at least the 1970s energy price shocks.
We saw the price of gas and coal jump across the globe, including in Australia, and these price hikes had a devastating impact on domestic energy markets.
This hike in energy prices was seen across the world, and the IEA reported 90 per cent of these price hikes were due to the impacts of the Russian invasion.
Treasury forecasted a 20% rise in electricity costs in 2022-23, and a 36% rise in electricity costs in 2023-24. For gas prices, it was a 20% increase in 2022-23 and a 20% increase in 2023-24.
Of course, this is what led to the government’s decision to introduce gas and coal price caps in December with skyrocketing prices to hit Australian consumers. Our caps were set to account for a reasonable profit margin, not an unjustified one.
Encouragingly, we are starting to see signs that the action is having an effect in dampening price rises.
Far from the peaks seen in the middle of the year, average wholesale electricity prices in February, one year after Russia launched its invasion, were down to $83 MWh.
Our Energy Price Relief Plan includes consumer and small business rebates.
CLIMATE AND ENERGY POLICY
The public debate around energy prices is highly politically contested just as the broader climate debate is.
Climate politics in Australia has been tribal for many years. There remain climate deniers and delayers in the Federal Parliament, and the Opposition remains stuck in the same gear as they have for the last decade: decrying action on climate change rather than seeing it as the massive investment and job creation opportunity that it is.
Likewise, others are quick to label any action as not good enough, rapid to call for more while ignoring the complexities of managing this transition smoothly to ensure our lights stay on and our industrial base expands during this vital transformation.
What each of these approaches lack is a melding together of ambition and a focus on being achievable.
Our approach is centrist but it is far from timid. We receive criticism from the left and the right but we continue with alacrity because this middle way is the right way.
To achieve a 43% economy wide emissions reduction by 2030 from a standing start, we are going to need a massive whole of society effort, which embraces every sector of our economy.
When we came to office, 32% of our electricity came from renewable energy. Our commitment is to lift this to 82% in the next 82 months. We will do this in several ways.
The passage of our Climate Act through Parliament was vital in sending the message to renewable energy investors.
Large-scale wind and solar farm investment commitments grew nearly 50% in 2022, with 4.3 gigawatts (GW) of large-scale renewable energy capacity achieving a final investment decision (FID), most from the election onwards.
To put this in perspective, 4.3 GW is enough to power more than 3 million homes.
The second half of last year also saw a step up in rooftop solar investment by households and businesses, with over 300,000 small-scale rooftop solar systems installed in 2022, contributing an extra 2.8 GW of renewable energy capacity.
We will achieve our 82% target through policy levers. Our Rewiring the Nation policy is absolutely vital in upgrading the grid to cater for much greater renewable penetration.
We have inked comprehensive deals under Rewiring the Nation with NSW, Victoria and Tasmania; negotiations with remaining jurisdictions are advancing well.
We will keep the much-needed focus on reliability, through the Capacity Investment Scheme. After 4GW of dispatchable power came out of the grid in the past decade, and only 1GW to replace it, states and territories unanimously agreed with the Commonwealth in December on a model to further enhance stability and certainty for investors and unleash at least $10 billion – and 6GW – of investment in dispatchable renewable energy.
We will work with communities around Australia to develop our offshore wind industry.
Providing a framework for 4.9% emissions reduction every year is ambitious. It’s necessary to provide flexibility to industries to ensure that ambition is achievable.
The fact is this: if our reforms are passed, there will be a scheme to ensure emissions come down from big emitters, whether they be old or new. If they don’t pass, there will be no such scheme.
Emissions from covered facilities have gone up 4% since the scheme took effect in 2016. No reform means no change: it means emissions continuing to rise.
One of the issues that has been raised in relation to our reforms is the future of gas.
The previous government promoted a “gas-led recovery”. It was, and remains, a fraudulent concept. Between 2014 and 2021, east coast gas production increased 300 per cent.
Yet despite supply going up significantly the prices paid by Australian households and Australian industry also went up by 420 per cent (in real terms) over that same period of time.
The former government was warned on at least a dozen occasions that because of their inaction we were hurtling towards a supply problem in the domestic market but nothing happened – apart from slogans.
I have mentioned our plan to lift the energy mix to 82% renewable by 2030. As big and ambitious as this lift is, it would leave 18% of our electricity mix as non-renewable.
As aging coal-fired power stations leave the grid, that 18% will increasingly focus on gas.
Gas is a flexible fuel necessary for peaking and firming as we undertake this transformation.
That I have just mentioned relates only to electricity and before we get to the needs of industrial manufacturers for gas as feedstock and direct energy.
There will still be a need for gas as a supporting fuel, especially for industrial and commercial users.
Practical and evidence-based policy is good policy but being practical and evidence based should not be portrayed as lacking passion.
Getting this transition right is the main game in determining the prosperity of our nation in coming decades.
There is no imperative greater for governments in this age, than playing our role in holding the world as close as possible to 1.5 degrees of warming.
There is no greater economic opportunity for our country than developing our potential as a renewable energy powerhouse, to provide for our own energy needs and, increasingly to be a supplier of cheap renewable energy to the world.