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Don't be a Fossil Fool - Australia needs higher mandatory renewable energy targets

By Catherine Fitzpatrick - posted Tuesday, 1 April 2003

April Fool's Day is traditionally a day on which we all poke a bit of harmless fun at each other. But in the current global climate, it is worth reflecting on the history of April Fool's and on what we can learn from it.

The tradition is believed to have started in France a little over 400 years ago, when the new Gregorian calendar was adopted. This calendar shifted the celebration of New Year's Day from the first of April to the first of January.

Of course, it took a long time for this message to be communicated to the population. Inevitably, there were also individuals and groups who objected to the change and refused to get in line. For many years afterwards, people were still celebrating New Year in April - people stuck in an old, outmoded world and failing to move with the times. The original "April fools".


What better contemporary examples of April fools are there, then, than those who don't acknowledge that the age of fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - should come to an end because of global conflict, air pollution and climate change concerns?

In focusing on climate change, for most nations, the move to clean, renewable sources of energy is seen as an opportunity, creating jobs and securing a non-fossil-based energy supply. If Australia makes the right decisions now, we could become the renewable energy powerhouse for the Asia-Pacific region.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister John Howard is leading a government of fossil fools. Time and again they have shown their contempt for those already suffering from the impacts of climate change by continuing massive subsidies for fossil fuels but making only token gestures of support for renewable energy.

Recently, they ceased funding the Co-operative Research Centre for Renewable Energy. They have capped the rebate program for the domestic purchase of solar panels and have not committed to extending it in the coming Federal Budget. And their mandatory renewable energy target (known as MRET), already lagging behind the world at only 2 per cent, is facing an uphill battle to be increased.

The MRET commenced two years ago and has already made a small but significant impact, stimulating the growth of the renewable energy industry in Australia. However, it has since been overtaken by larger and better-designed targets around the world - for example, 10 per cent in the UK, 20 per cent in Denmark and California and even 7.5 per cent in Texas!

One of the undisputed leaders in the development of renewable energy is Germany. But they haven't reached the position they are in by luck or by accident - they planned it well with a package of supportive policies.


The World Watch Institute has noted that at the beginning of the 1990s Germany had virtually no renewable energy industry and few ever thought of Germany becoming a world leader in this area. Yet in only a decade, and with a fraction of the resource potential of Australia, Germany has been transformed into a renewable energy giant responsible for creating a multi-billion dollar industry and tens of thousands of jobs.

This evolution provides useful lessons for Australia, demonstrating the need for governments to create a supportive framework for companies to invest in new renewable energy developments.

Even the US, which along with Australia has the most backward position on climate change, is the third largest solar producer in the world and produces moer than 45 times the wind power that Australia does, largely because of state-based policies.

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About the Author

Catherine Fitzpatrick is a climate and energy specialist at Greenpeace.

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