We’re one week into the election campaign and the shopping lists of political promises are already adding up to big dollars for both parties. And although both Prime Minister John Howard and opposition Leader Kevin Rudd would have us believe they are serious about climate change, they are yet to put their money where their mouth is in the campaign.

Last Tuesday, the Coalition came out with a typical pre-election style
spending spree, promising $34 billion in tax cuts over the next three years. And Labor has retaliated with its own tax cuts valued at $31 billion. In total, we have over $38.7 billion worth of promises from the Coalition, and $34.5 billion from Labor. But neither party wants to put a price on climate change.

Yesterday, Howard came out with a plan to set-up a Climate Change Fund by 2012 with revenue from the emissions trading scheme. He has said the money would be used to pay for the development of ‘clean’ energy and to help low income families deal with rising power costs. But the details of the fund were unclear, with Howard refusing to speculate on its size and delaying any action for four or five years. Worse still it could end up subsidising dangerous and dirty nuclear energy and unproven clean coal technology. We need action now, not in 2011. Just imagine the impact $34 billion could make if it was invested in kickstarting a clean energy revolution based on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind. These renewable energy sources are clean, safe plentiful and sustainable.

With vast open space and abundant sunshine, we ‘the sunburnt country’ could be leading the world on this front. Enough sun falls on Australian land each hour to supply our power needs for a whole year, if only we could capture it all. And there’s certainly a market for it. China, the world’s fastest growing economy has a legislated target to meet a full 16% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Its goal for wind alone is a huge 30,000MW. So instead of pushing dirty coal and dangerous uranium to the world’s largest population, why not spend some of our massive Budget surplus developing a clean-tech economy.
We already know it’s a lucrative investment. Just look at the $300 AUD deal Roaring Forties signed to build three 50MW wind farms in Eastern China. Or the billions of dollars UNSW-educated Dr Shi has made by taking Australian solar technologies to the huge Chinese market with his company, Suntech.

John Howard talks of creating jobs via his new tax cuts but with the right incentives, the solar photovoltaic industry could employ 80,000 people by 2020 in Australia. That’s about three times those currently employed in coal mining.

So why do both party leaders fail to take immediate action on this huge opportunity? We have the money, the opportunity and certainly the expertise with our world-renowned energy researchers and institutions. Yet other countries such as Japan and Germany, who have less sun and wind are leaving us behind in the renewable resources race through strong renewable energy policy.
For green solutions to global warming to find a foothold in the market, we need a government that’s going to stop spending money on dirty, polluting energy such as coal and start spending it on the real viable solutions provided by renewable energy and energy efficiency. Delaying action will only cost us more in the long run.

Cleaning up our act
Just a fraction of $34 billion could go a long way to slashing Australia’s greenhouse pollution and beginning the clean energy revolution. Instead of offering modest tax cuts perhaps the Coalition and Opposition could pick up a few items from our shopping list:

  • $2 billion over 10 years to reinvigorate Renewable Energy Research and Development
  • $200 million a year for five years into research and development of energy storage technologies for solar and wind energy.
  • Removal of all subsidies that encourage fossil fuel use (this would free up $10 billion per year if implemented nationally)
  • Funding and support to develop a large pilot geothermal project of greater than 800 MW capacity.
  • Funding and support to develop a large pilot solar thermal power station of greater than 400 MW capacity.
  • Introduction of tax deductions for the purchase of green power.
  • Funding for a Federal Office of Energy Efficiency, with the capacity to update and enforce efficiency standards and codes.
  • Tax incentives to promote efficiency improvements for buildings, vehicles and equipment beyond minimum standards.
  • Establishment of a ‘National Public Transport Renewal Program’ with $1 billion of additional Federal funding annually to improve and expand public transport, cycling and walking paths and develop sustainable freight systems.
  • Removal of tariffs for fuel efficient cars, including hybrid vehicles and vehicles with a five star fuel efficiency rating on the Australian Government’s Green Car Guide.
  • Commitment by the Australian Government to purchase 100% accredited green power for its own use.