7 September 2009: Will Australia make climate progress?

One of Kevin Rudd’s first acts on becoming Australian prime minister was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which his predecessor refused to do. Now, he is trying to introduce a cap-and-trade system to help deliver up to a 25% reduction in Australia’s emissions by 2020. As Simon Morris’ article (see Australian climate change policy) says, this isn’t enough. However, it is certainly better than denying the reality of climate change, as many of his opponents still do.

Australia has vast quantities of coal, gas and oil – although it uses so much oil that some has to be imported. It also has the world’s largest reserves of uranium, which it is happy to mine and export, while refusing to have any nuclear power stations in Australia – a rather striking example of the Not-In-My-Back-Yard syndrome! And it has lots of sunshine, wind and coastline for marine renewables.

Many Australian buildings have solar thermal technology to heat water. However, its performance on renewable electricity is pathetically low, given its resource (see Australia – climate and energy statistics). Rudd has legislated for a 20% target to come from renewables by 2020. Again, this is not enough (but much better than nothing) and it also starts from a very low base for everything except large hydro, which is unlikely to be expanded.

However, Australia is vulnerable to climate change. Its main food growing area – the Murray-Darling river system – suffered a serious drought last summer. It has immense potential to harness clean energy, but its politicians will have to have the courage to face down the climate deniers.

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