Polluters need to pay for their carbon pollution

While Federal Labor and Liberal politicians squabble about how much of the revenue raised from a price on carbon pollution should go back to the polluters, more than 100 climate scientists from around the world have just finished meeting on the Gold Coast to prepare a report for the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters.

The world’s climate scientists are already clear: climate change is causing more extreme weather events (such as major storms, floods and droughts) and these are likely to become more frequent and more severe if our politicians don’t change their approach.

The CSIRO has warned for several years that Australia will get hotter and wetter, and have more extreme weather. In February 2011 Professor Ross Garnaut warned that the costs of inaction on climate change will only escalate and it is more economically rational to invest now in alternatives.

The IPCC Chairman Dr Pachauri has said that the world needs to invest more in renewable energy and in systems that help communities adapt to more frequent and more intense extreme weather events.

It is clear what needs to happen.

Last Monday, environment group Rising Tide highlighted that the Federal government is heading in the wrong direction by considering giving the carbon pollution revenue back to the polluters. The group highlighted that every dollar that goes back to the billionaire coal companies is a dollar that doesn’t go to low-income Australians or into renewable energy projects.

Instead of investing in renewable energy programs, the Federal Labor government is slashing them.

The recent budget included taking $156.4 million out of the National Solar Schools Program, reducing the Solar Flagships funding by $220 million and pushing out the $100 million Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund to 2023-24.

The former State Labor government headed in the wrong direction by slashing the solar ‘feed-in’ tariff in November last year from 60 cents per kilowatt hour to a mere 20 cents per kilowatt hour.

The new State Liberal government continued the backwards move, announcing last week that they would introduce retrospective legislation to slash the rate even for those households that had a contract for the 60 cents per kilowatt hour.

These government cuts mean a loss of jobs in the renewable energy industries.

The rest of the world is heading in the other direction.

Over 280,000 jobs have been created in Germany through government support for renewable energy.

Despite the global financial crisis, countries across the world invested in renewable energy.

Global renewable energy capacity grew in 2009; investment in wind energy grew by over 30 percent; hydropower by three percent; grid-connected photovoltaics by over 50 percent; geothermal by 4 percent and solar water/heating by over 20 percent.

Of the around 300 gigawatts of new electricity generating capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, 140 gigawatts came from renewable energy.

The IPCC released a report earlier this month indicating that renewables could power almost 80% of the globe by 2050 with the right government policies.

According to the experts, this increase in renewables would be driven by a mix of technologies, with the largest contributions from direct solar, wind and modern biomass.

Solar Energy technologies such as photovoltaics and concentrating solar power (like solar thermal that’s being studied at the CSIRO in Newcastle) is predicted to increase from around one percent to a third of the global energy supplies by 2050.

Wind Energy is predicted to grow to more than 20 percent, from the current two percent.

The expert review concluded that Bioenergy (like Newcastle Council’s landfill methane to electricity at Summerhill) would be a significant part of the mix. The report highlighted some interesting future possibilities, such as liquid biofuel production from algae which is currently in the research and development phase.

Energy capacity from hydropower projects are expected to grow in absolute terms. Geothermal Energy, which utilises the heat stored in the Earth‘s interior, is expected to be more than 3 percent of global energy demand. Ocean Energy technologies are predicted to contribute a couple of a percent to the global energy demand by 2050.

It is clear what needs to happen.

Polluters need to pay for their carbon pollution.

However by itself a price on their carbon pollution is not sufficient to drive new investment in renewable energy.

Government investment on our behalf is needed.

The government must use the carbon pollution revenue raised to compensate low-income households and to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiencies.

Councillor Michael Osbourne

Greens Councilor for Newcastle


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