By Cyril Toman

Members of 350 Perth were among the large and appreciative audience attending the Perth launch of Ross Garnaut’s ground-breaking new work, “Superpower, Australia’s low-carbon opportunityheld recently at Curtin University. 

“The fog of Australian politics on climate change has obscured a fateful reality,” Dr Garnaut said. “Australia has the potential to be an economic superpower of the future post-carbon world”. If Australia rises to the challenge of climate change, it will emerge, according to Dr Garnaut, as a global superpower in energy, low-carbon industry, and absorption of carbon in the landscape. 

“Superpower” points to a number of factors that have marvellously reduced the cost of getting out of fossil fuels. First, the extraordinary fall – far greater than any economist had forecast – in the cost of equipment for solar energy, wind energy, and power storage. Second, the immense opportunity Australia has for sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils, woodlands, forests and plantations. 

A third factor – a bit technical, but then Ross Garnaut is an economics professor – is the historic fall in global interest rates over the last decade. The new technologies for producing and storing renewable energy and for sequestering atmospheric carbon in the landscape are highly capital-intensive compared to fossil fuel technologies. Low interest rates strongly support capital-intensive industries. Meanwhile, the cost of fossil fuels rose 600% in the decade between 2002 and 2012, putting up the cost of dirty energy.

Ross Garnaut

Ross Garnaut

Ross Garnaut was the author of the Climate Change Review (2008), commissioned by the state and territory governments, which recommended an emissions trading scheme. The proposal gained support from both the Labor Government and the then leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull – support that led to Turnbull being ousted by Tony Abbott.

Garnaut stands by his view that “Comprehensive carbon pricing is the centrepiece of any environmentally and economically efficient program to reduce emissions”. However, “the politics of the past decade have .. poisoned the well for carbon pricing.” 

In place of carbon pricing – which should only be re-introduced when both sides of politics support it –  Garnaut offers a range of initiatives such as strengthening the role of the Australian Renewable Energy Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Regulator, statutory bodies which were diminished but not abolished by the Abbott Government.

If our current policy makers took even some of the steps Garnaut is suggesting, they could begin to move Australia from policy incoherence to hope and opportunity.

Superpower, Australia’s low-carbon opportunity” by Ross Garnaut is published by Latrobe University Press.