Australia has a choice to make to secure its energy future. But critics of the federal government's energy white paper are wrong to argue it comes down to choosing between traditional energy supplies such as coal, gas and oil and renewable energy sources including wind and solar power.
That logic misses the point of what the Australian government is trying to do: deliver a mix of traditional and renewable energy sources. The choice we face is between low and high-emissions outcomes.
We need to be practical when it comes to our current and future energy needs. Coal, oil and gas will meet the bulk of Australia's energy demand for the foreseeable future. Our new energy policy offers a realistic strategy to secure our future energy needs, while ensuring that Australia plays its part in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. It is about making Australia a world leader in the development of low-emissions technologies without throwing away a natural resources advantage that gives us access to low-cost energy.
There are some people who think we should have done things differently. In particular, a number of critics argue that the government should have mandated a higher target for renewable energy sources.
This would impose unacceptable costs on the Australian economy and benefit too few technologies. Our future prosperity as a nation depends on being able to retain and develop our natural energy advantage in traditional industries, including by making them cleaner.
Simply increasing the mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) is not the answer as it would raise costs by billions of dollars and put government in the business of favouring certain technologies over others.
We need win-win strategies that will unlock the potential for all our natural resources, contribute to prosperity and improve our environment - not policies that will increase prices, destroy Australian jobs and drive investment offshore.
A better way is to directly fund all technologies that lower Australia's future emissions. This is what the government is doing with a $500 million low-emissions technology fund. Renewable energy sources will, of course, be eligible for the fund. In addition, the government is providing more than $200 million specifically for renewable-energy technologies to prepare Australia to respond to potential long-term emissions constraints. This includes $75 million for solar cities trials.
We are also requiring about 250 large firms in Australia (which together account for more than 60 per cent of total business energy use) to undertake mandatory energy efficiency audits and to report publicly every five years.
The other main criticism we face is over our decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol. But Kyoto is no silver bullet when it comes to climate change and its provisions impose unfair costs on Australia.
What the government's critics never concede is that Australia is one of the few nations on track to meet our obligations under Kyoto. We are acting to ensure we meet the target set for us in 2012. As well as the measures announced on Tuesday, the government is already spending a further $1 billion on a range of greenhouse abatement measures across the energy, transport and agriculture sectors.
But it makes no sense for Australia to ratify something that does not encompass many of the world's largest emitters, including the United States, China, India. Critically, the Kyoto Protocol does not address the issue of investment and emissions moving from one nation to another with no overall greenhouse benefit.
The Australian government is looking beyond Kyoto towards a more effective long-term response to climate change. We accept that substantial further effort is needed to prepare the economy for future emission constraints. This is the aim of our energy white paper.
In supporting all low-emission technologies, it is looking beyond 2012 to a post-Kyoto future.
This is an extract from John Howard's address to the National Press Club on 15 June 2004. It was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 June 2004. The full text is here.
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