On September 23, federal environment minister Malcolm Turnbull and industry and resources minister Ian Macfarlane announced a new national "clean energy target".
The CET will replace existing state and territory schemes to increase the amount of energy produced by low-emissions technologies, and is due to commence no later than 2010.
The astounding thing about the target is just how low it is: 30,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy to be generated by low-emissions technologies by 2020.
According to figures in a 2006 report by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), Australian Energy: National and State Projections to 2029, in 2004-05, Australian electricity generation totalled 252,000 GWh. Of this, 19,000 GWh or 7% came from renewables — hydro, wind, biomass and biogas — and 93% from fossil fuels.
ABARE's projections suggest that by 2019-20, electricity generation will have reached 342,000 GWh, with 28,000 GWh — or just over 8% — from renewables. So what the government's policy will do, if it works, is to increase by 2000 GWh, or under 1%, the amount of electricity to be produced by low-emissions technologies, compared to what it would probably have been otherwise!
Incidentally, the policy uses a cut-off of 200kg of greenhouse gases per MWh of electricity produced for the definition of "low emissions" technology. This allows the government's pet but as-yet hypothetical carbon capture and sequestration to be included. Coal-fired power stations emit in the order of 800-1500 kg CO2/MWh, the most efficient gas-fired power stations around 400kg CO2/MWh, and renewables close to zero (but more than zero assuming the energy used to construct them comes from fossil fuels).
Completely missing from the target is any plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting production of electricity from fossil fuels. The target is expressed in the absolute amount of energy to come from low emissions technologies, but is silent on what proportion of the total this should be, or what corresponding reduction there should be in electricity generated by high-emissions technologies.
This is not a serious response to climate change.
What's really needed, as the Socialist Alliance outlines in our climate change charter It Happens to be an Emergency, are targets for immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in the order of 5% a year or more overall, and greater reductions overall in the energy generation sector.
This can only be achieved by bringing the entire sector — from the coal mines to the power point — into public hands and mapping out a transition for the rapid shift to phase-out coal, replacing it with a mix of renewables. Only in this way can the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions be carried out, and in a way that protects the workers in the affected industries, who must be guaranteed retraining on full pay and redeployment in the new jobs that will be created.
[Kamala Emanuel is a Socialist Alliance Senate candidate in NSW. To read the climate change charter visit http://www.socialist-alliance.org.]