In a week in which the US economy continued to plummet to historic lows amid talk of massive bailout plans and the US election now a mere month away - Kevin Rudd's jaunt to New York last week barely registered a ripple here.
His timing was dreadful. To roll up in New York to lecture the UN about Australia becoming a world leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS) at this time is, frankly, embarrassing for Australia.
The PM had announced before he left for New York that the Australian government would fund a Global Institute on Carbon Capture and Storage Institute to the tune of A$100 million, but was looking for foreign investment to make the project a reality.
He pointed out that there is no other such institute in the world to provide “a go-to place to access CCS technology for at-scale projects”.
By way of explanation, CCS is a range of technologies that can trap carbon dioxide from power stations and industrial sites, then transport and store them in geological formations deep underground. It aims to reduce the CO2 being emitted by coal fired power stations by up to 90 per cent.
Currently Australia is dependent on coal for 80 per cent our domestic electricity and we are the biggest coal exporter in the world. The PM clearly knows that to end Australia's reliance on coal or to close our export markets overnight would mean sinking the Australian economy.
Rudd was in New York attempting to sell the magic fix of clean coal to the world - while protecting Australia's economic interests. The problem is CCS is a largely un-proven technology, and there remains deep scepticism in the scientific and environmental community of its viability.
On the same day Rudd was talking up his CSS institute at the UN, former Vice President Al Gore was a few blocks across town also coincidentally, discussing clean coal.
“Clean coal does not exist,” said Gore, to a gathering of hundreds of Heads of state, corporate CEO's and celebrities at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting. “Clean coal is like healthy smoking,” he added. “If the coal companies can actually sequester CO2, and safely, then OK. But don't pretend to do it.”
“Don't give us this illusion.”
Australian environmental organisations including the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace assert that CCS will not cut emissions in time to save the Great Barrier Reef nor to meet the other challenges posed to Australia as a result of climate change.
A new report from the Global Carbon project found that carbon emissions had grown four times faster from 2000 to 2007 than in the previous decade. In Australia, fossil fuel emissions have grown by 2 per cent a year, and almost 10 billion tonnes of carbon had been released into the atmosphere last year.
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