I had to search for the actual Labor climate change policy, after Mr Shorten had announced it the other day. Too many of the media sources stayed with the leaks about what would be in it, but I finally found the official Labor source.
It is long and full of assertions that have little basis in evidence. ‘Labor accepts the science of climate change’, it begins, and that is a bad start, for there is a great deal of science about climate, and it by no means points in the one direction. And the Policy tells us that various experts have predicted that if we don’t keep global temperature below two degrees Celsius (I think the writers meant that any increasein global temperature needed to be kept below that figure) the average Australian household will eventually be $14,000 worse off. Where that comes from I have no idea, especially given that our capacity to predict the future, both climatically and economically, is severely limited. Nor is it clear when ‘eventually’ is to happen.
What is the substance of the policy? My short summary is that
* 50 per cent of the nation’s electricity is intended to come from renewable sources by 2030.
* There will be a subsidy for household battery systems for families earning less than $180,000 a year.
* Bioenergy is to be boosted.
* Electric Vehicles are to make up 50 per cent of new vehicle sales by 2030, to some extent through subsidies.
* Governments will transform their vehicle fleets to EVs.
* There will be a massive development of the hydrogen economy.
* There will be greater support for ‘reducing land pollution’.
* The meat industry will ‘be carbon neutral by 2030’.
* The ‘Climate Change Ambassador’ will be reinstituted and rebadged.
* The Climate Change Authority will be restored.
Some readers will wonder what ‘the hydrogen economy’ is, and Wikipedia tells us that it is an aspect of the low-carbon economy, using hydrogen, whose combustion only produces water. We don’t have a hydrogen economy yet, and Wikipedia warns that ‘The production of large amounts of clean electricity (from renewable and nuclear resources) must therefore first be effected, before hydrogen can become an effective energy carrier’. The year 2030 appears again and again in the policy as a boundary year, but I doubt that the hydrogen economy will be with us by then.
The media fastened on the 50 per cent target for EVs by 2030 with, I felt, some pardonable doubt as to its efficacy or possibility. Since 85 per cent of eastern grid electricity comes from fossil fuels, a figure that can’t be much less in 2030, it is hard to see how this target can affect climate change. But perhaps it is pleasing to those worried about climate change and global warming. Indeed, how anything in this policy can have a measurable effect on global warming, given that Australia produces only a little more than 1 per cent of global CO2 emissions, puzzles me. Even if Mr Shorten promised to end all coal exports (of which there is no mention), that would only provide other countries with an energy market for their fossil fuels. There is no sign that China or India is doing more than talking about the issue. Again, it is hard to see this policy as anything other than a flag to wave at the warming-worriers.
Prime Minister Abbott got rid of the Climate Change Authority; Labor will bring it back. Why we need an Ambassador for Climate Change is not spelled out, but that is the sort of thing you might have, once again, to show that your heart is in the right place. Encouraging people to put solar arrays on their houses makes some sense, but the initial cost seems to be around $10,000, and your lower electricity bills will need to continue for many years before you are financially square. I don’t know how long the panels last before they need replacing, or how often they need cleaning, or who does that; these are all factors that need to be borne in mind. No matter — we’ve gone down that path for quite a while now, so Labor’s proposal here seems sensible enough, if you have the initial capital.
However, everything that I have read on the matter suggests that the more alternative energy there is in the creation of electricity the more unreliable and awkward the grid will be, and we are already being warned officially that our present system is under real stress because of the alternative energy we already have. Some might say that Labor’s proposal that 50 per cent of electricity from alternative sources is ‘aspirational’, and that might be true, but at our present level of knowledge it doesn’t seem sensible.
I haven’t mentioned the Coalition’s climate change policy, party because the Prime Minister says Australia is doing well as it is, and there’s no need to do much more. It seems to me that in this domain, so liked by the media because of its propensity to provide scary stories, both sides are simply trying to avoid losing votes, the Liberals from warming-worriers in metropolitan electorates, and Labor from warming-worriers everywhere who think that the Greens might be a better prospect on polling day. Mr Shorten possibly thinks that no one will remember his 2030 ambitions when that year finally arrives. He probably will have retired from Parliament anyway.
What sort of climate change policy do we really need? Since there is so much angst and agitation around the world about global warming, I think we need to have a clear and coherent approach forAustralia. Mine would go like this:
First, we are quite good at research, so let’s have a well-resourced team somewhere that is looking at what are natural variations in global temperature and other indices of climate change, not just at carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. Its bias has to be fact-seeking and sceptical.
Second, that team should run a three-day symposium every year in which it tries to sum up what has been learned in the previous twelve months.
Third, Australia takes part in any scientific meetings where real data and real argument are the basis of the meeting. We avoid altogether, or send low-level representation only to, the gab-fests that occur every year and produce ‘agreements’ like the Paris Accord.
Fourth, we make it clear that Australia will join international efforts with respect to climate where (i) the science underlying the effort is clear and unambiguous, and (ii) where all countries agree to do the same. We are not important enough to be a leader in this field, and it would be pretentious to act as though we were, notwithstanding Mr Shorten’s anxiety about our ‘reputation’ overseas. Our Government’s duty is to look after the interests of Australians.
Fifth, the language changes. Australia does not talk about ‘carbon pollution’, and it welcomes informed discussion of what is a thorny and difficult topic. There are no carbon taxes or their equivalent, and subsidies to alternative energy sources are scrapped unless there is an overwhelmingly good reason to keep them. Our Government makes clear that it is not interested in ‘belief’ about the science or the issue.
Well, that’s a start. Of course, no political leader will give these suggestions any consideration. There are important matters at stake, like the coming election!