Published on August 7th, 20130
A clean solution for our future
By Matteo Gagliardi
Young people have a lot to consider when choosing who to vote for, perhaps more than everyone else.
The reason for this is because they need to weigh up a lot of short-term considerations which will affect their ability to develop and enter the workforce in the present and long-term considerations which will keep them secure and help them prosper in the future.
While older generations may reflect on future implications of policies in terms of how it will affect their children, their concern is primarily fixated on how best to provide for their families in the present.
They need to do this to give their children a head-start so they can eventually be better poised to tackle their futures.
This is an extremely confronting situation for young people to come across, especially those of us who are heading to the ballot boxes for the first time.
Climate change is one area where all these conflicting considerations intersect. It is tied up with other problems such as our civil liberties, the strength of the economy, environmental degradation and national security.
It is something we need to get right. How we decide to respond to climate change now has massive implications for our future.
But looking beyond 2020, the deadline for our Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions target, how can we tackle climate change in a way that provides the best outcomes for us as we grow old?
This question is becoming increasingly relevant as it becomes more likely that countries will be made to set their own emissions reductions targets; the future international agreement is going to be much more flexible than the Kyoto Protocol.
The climate policy we vote for within the next few years therefore becomes vital in shaping our targets in the years to come.
The first thing we need to do is ensure that we decrease the amount of emissions coming from businesses and households. There are multiple ways to do this that you can choose from.
We could turn carbon into a commodity and allow it to be traded within a market through carbon credits. This is what Kevin Rudd wants to do with an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
This option is risky, but promises to deliver if implemented properly. It requires a lot of planning and a common set of carbon accounting rules, as well as agreement on what the level (cap) of emissions a company cannot go over without buying carbon permits from another company that doesn’t reach its cap and therefore has carbon credits to offset.
This scheme encourages companies to act with prudence and manage their emissions allocations over the long term.
It also needs to be linked with other schemes across the world, in particular the European ETS which is the biggest and most organised, so that Australian businesses will have a deeper global carbon market to trade with.
The alternative to this is to put price carbon so that companies have to pay for every tonne of it they emit into the atmosphere. This what the Greens and the Gillard government came up with in the Carbon Tax, which would eventually transition towards an ETS in 2015, once businesses were used to emitting less thanks to the tax-burden it caused.
The price was shown to have worked; over the time period of the tax, emissions levels dropped and renewable energy became more of an appealing financial alternative to fossil fuel-generated electricity. Investment in renewables increased throughout this time.
Kevin Rudd plans to move away from the Carbon Tax, but the Greens continue to argue it is necessary for emissions reductions.
On the other hand, the Liberal Party have released a broad blueprint on climate action called the Direct Action Plan. This includes a $2.5 billion investment in a vaguely defined “Emissions Reduction Fund” and other initiatives such as planting more trees and soil farms aimed at capturing carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by coal.
The Liberals are engaging youth to be involved by saying they will fund a “Green Army” of young people to plant trees and participate in projects to reduce emissions at grassroots levels.
The second thing an effective climate policy must do is help Australia transition from a carbon-intensive economy to a low-carbon future. For us youth, this is integral.
Whereas setting the framework to reduce emissions has to be formulated in the short-term, a longer term project is the need to invest in clean technologies to help sustain low levels of emissions reductions.
The technology to provide clean energy is still too inefficient and costly at the moment. So it is irresponsible to bring down the coal industry without enabling clean energy technology to take over.
There are multiple problems with investing in renewable energy. Firstly, it is initially hard to compete with cheap energy provided by coal. The government subsidises fossil fuel companies, giving them a competitive advantage from the onset.
Then, it takes a long time in between finding investors to fund your clean technology and when people start choosing to buy into it.
The time in between these points is referred to by economists as the “valley of death” because it is the time when money from initial investment dries up and there isn’t enough money coming in from consumers. It is therefore difficult to continue financing the product’s commercialisation.
Renewable energy products find it difficult to overcome this obstacle.
This is where the Government needs to intervene. It needs to subsidise renewable energy companies get through the valley of death and subsidise people who choose to do the right thing for the atmosphere and buy into their products.
The ALP says it plans to provide $10 billion to fund a Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CFEC), which invests in clean technologies. However, a lot of this was planned to be funded by the proceeds generated by the Carbon Tax, which Rudd has now scrapped.
Investment can’t just go into current clean energy sources but in the research programs for developing new clean technology ideas.
Just last week, researchers from Adelaide University developed a new material which could, once developed for industrial use, efficiently and cost-effectively separate carbon dioxide from nitrogen when burning coal, advancing the potential for carbon capture and storage to allow the coal industry to continue operating whilst still reducing emissions.
This could help Australia sustain economic growth through the continued exploitation of coal, a globally coveted resource.
These sorts of innovative ideas should be promoted and invested in. Australia should therefore foster a market culture which promotes innovative ideas in clean tech.
This, along with the benefits investment will provide for the individual innovators, the research sector and for capital investors who show faith in the new products, will make Australia a global leader both in economic and environmental terms.
History has shown that consumption levels can increase with more technological efficiency, and the same can be said about a technology’s environmental efficiency.
This will not only solve our climate change woes, but also improve our energy security, have economic benefits and cause less pollution (which, let’s face it, is only a good thing). It’s now up to us as voters to demand that technological progress be a government priority going into the future – it’s a clean solution.
This article was published in the On Campus section of the Virgin Voters website. For your chance to get something published and contribute to the public conversation, enter our Political Writing Competition.