Is Australia approaching ‘K’ day?

by Nick Bruse

Last night in Australia we had Prime Minster John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd go head to head in a televised debate. Key issues were the economy(interest rates and tax cuts), the war in iraq and climate change- you can check out a video summary here

Interestingly for Australia one might say that all three of these issues are highly integrated with foreign policy and have quite significant leverage points with the US. Namely our involvement in Iraq, and the governments position on climate change.

I think its worthwhile to provide some insight as to what is happening in Australian politics right now on The Cleantech Blog because the climate change policy of both contenders is quite different and may have significant bearing on world politics if Australia does sign the Kyoto agreement – ‘K’ day.

Essentially, if Kevin Rudd wins the next election and he is winning by around 10points in polls currently, he will has promised to sign up to Kyoto, and commit to the proposed Australian state government coalition recommendations on an emissions trading program.

The Howard government announced last night that it plans to start up a clean energy technology fund, though with little details on it currently. “He says its priorities would be to invest in clean energy technology and to support households who are most affected by the higher prices after a carbon price is set. He also said that if he wins the election he would try to push the United States to do more on climate change, including lobbying George Bush.”

In addition to the most notable action in the climate space by the Howard Government have been:

  • Establishment then removal of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 2% in early 2000s
  • A taskforce report on carbon emissions trading – but no commitment
  • No commitment to Kyoto protocol – but to a new Kyoto framework
  • A$100m to Asia pacific technology pact
  • A taskforce report on bring nuclear power to Australia
  • A$200m to reduce regional deforestation
  • Establishment of A$500m Low emissions technology development fund – of which $335 has been spent on coal projects
  • Achievement of our Kyoto targets, predominantly through our reduction in land clearing in 90s, not by curbing our emissions. (clive hamilton – scorcher)

Many criticise the current government for its years of inaction on climate change due to lobbying and strong personal links to the mining and energy industries – See the maniac times article for a critical view

So the real question is if we vote for Howard, has he really changed his tune – sceptic to realist, and is a vote for Kevin Rudd a vote for a greener cleaner future with his promise to sign Kyoto. For many the promise of becoming a kyoto signatory is a strong impetus.

What for one I would like to see is a strong commitment by both parties to a comprehensive acknowledgement that many different technologies, and solutions will play a part here. It seems that politicians struggle to implement bipartisan solutions from bodies specifically setup to take climate change like The Australian Greenhouse office. They also need to commit to the fact that we need to alter the playing field significantly to pro-actively support low emissions – through a tax or a trading scheme. More funds are all well and good – particularly to companies that require them – but it still means that someone is picking winners and that’s where the politics keeps weighing in. If the Howard government is throwing so much money at cleantech in Australia, why couldn’t Ausra get funds to build their plant here instead of the US?

Unfortunately with all the politicking going on at the moment prior to an election, its hard to see the real vision and leadership that’s required to actually make a difference on climate change. Perhaps we need an Australian version of Mr Gore? A change agent. Someone that can be both political and apolitical at the same time, singular minded and belligerent.


Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

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