Michael Sainsbury
November 3, 2016

Our Paris climate accord shame

Renewables

Our Paris climate accord shame

This is a picture Berlin: Which is closer to Paris than Canberra

As the deadline for ratifying the Paris climate accord arrives today (Nov. 4) with a dull thud for a government that has – 11 months later – singularly failed to ratify its global obligations, there is one question anyone with an interest in the lonely, partial success story of Malcolm Turnbull’s tenure should be asking.

Can the Prime Minister’s innovation story really fly if his government continues to play ducks and drakes on climate change as it panders to the right?

It has seemed clear in recent months, as the government has expanded its narrative around innovation that it ‘innovation’ surely is about creating new sustainable industries for the future.

But renewable technology is increasingly a gaping and obvious hole in a narrative that has not been without its wobbles (FinTech-mania, anyone?).

As InnovationAus.com – and indeed other informed commentators – has noted time and again, Australia is well placed to take the lead on climate technology.

But to put a rocket under the industry, the government needs a strong holistic message on climate change, and it seems unable to do so.

This starts with Australia's abject failure, so far, to ratify the Paris Climate Accord which was brought into stark and embarrassing relief this week when China – the world's largest emitter – rejected a plan by US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to back out of a the global climate change pact.

Australia’s own embarrassing record of carbon emissions should be enough to make the nation realize that by supercharging our own renewable industry we create a win-win situation of building a new industry based on solving a major problem.

And its not just Australia’s own emissions that we are responsible for, with coal as the country’s second biggest export – some $30 billion worth last year in a market environment when the price was plunging – we also export truckloads of emission to China, as well as Japan, Korean and other large emitters.

It doesn’t stop at the raw coal that Australia ships, mainly to make coal fired power, iron ore, Australia’s largest export feeds the steel industry which is guilty of using its own emissions issues – as well as burning metallurgical coal whose largest exporter is Australia.

Then there is wool, Australia’s largest agricultural export. Nowhere else in the world produces the ultra fine wool that Australia can.

China buys the vast majority of Australia’ wool clip, and processes the wool using often environmental damaging processes that we have now exported. All these are electricity intensive. More emissions, and so on and so forth.

In the world of climate change and emissions it’s a virtue-less circle. But here at InnovationAus.com we are realists and not victims of the “religion” of climate change that CSIRO chief Larry Marshall got himself into such as pickle.

Sure, Australia’s track record on all this is shithouse, to use a local vernacular that readers can immediately understand.

But even stripping away the moral turpitude of the massively outsize amount of carbon emissions, there is a business opportunity staring Australia in the face.

Even if one adopted the scientifically insupportable stance of the climate change deniers, it’s odd that they tend to come from the same place as the discredited trickle-down economics set.

Business success – the more rapacious the better – is the motto there, so why miss out on the renewables opportunity?

The Prime Minister appears stuck in one of the litany of Gordian binds that he has some how worked himself.

Elected by a the margin of a bee’s, um, ear, on the mindless, detail free mantra of “jobs and growth” and agility and innovation, as the rubber hits the road on the Paris Climate Accord climate change –the renewable opportunity for this sunny, windy country girt by sea with its tidal energy must surely now be the elephant in the room.

That the new industry minister Greg Hunt is the former environment minister and that new environment minister Josh Frydenburg is also energy minister does not seem to have helped one jot.

In the right hands, surely movement in this area could have been made? Like so much, he got that wrong.

Australia’s polices –or lack of them – are increasingly being questioned by other nations.

Countries that Australia would consider its global peers such as the US and the nations of the EU have legally ratified the Paris deal, indeed China did so jointly with the US.

Our politicians like to bang on about country’s such as China falling into line with international agreements – yet on climate issues it is we who are the outlier, raging against the dying, coal-fired gaslight. So much for the Innovation Nation.

Right now the government appears to have been sucked into the hole of petty politicking of Senator validity over which it has no control, too frightened to stand up for what it believes in – and for real opportunities for Australia beyond the temporary rebound in coal prices (oh the irony!)

That fear and the silence that goes with it are just the latest milestone on Australia’s sad and lonely journey to being the Land that Time Forgot.

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