Bill Shorten: The light on Labor's hill will be powered by renewables

Bill Shorten

We are, I believe, living through a shift in the national mood.

More and more Australians are choosing to reject the empty politics of fear and the great big old scare campaigns on everything. Australians are demanding, again, action on climate change.

And two essential truths are emerging:

One, the cost of effective action on climate change and embracing renewable energy is greatly outweighed by the opportunities: New jobs, new industries, new markets and trading opportunities.

And two, it is the economic and environmental cost of inaction that we should be most worried about.

We have a fragile atmosphere, which we all share – and which we rely on for our food, our water, our air and our energy.

The question for the world at the Paris Summit will be: how do we preserve this? How do we limit global warming to less than two degrees on pre-industrial levels?

Today’s CO2 concentration is higher than it has been for at least 800,000 years. And this is warming the world at 0.9 degrees above pre-industrial levels. And if we do nothing, if we watch as warming passes 2 degrees, the environmental consequences are widely reported and well-known.

More extreme weather, more often.

Extreme temperature events used to cover 0.1% of the earth – now they cover 10%.

This means longer droughts in parts of Australia, broken by more damaging floods. More frequent bushfires and more severe storms.

And beyond the flashpoints of these events – there are the creeping, incremental consequences:
– A massive decline in agricultural production especially in the Murray Darling Basin
– Irretrievable damage to the Great Barrier Reef
– Widespread shortages of urban water supply, extreme spikes in global food prices.
– Increase in heat-related deaths and increased airborne disease.
– Heightened instability in the coastal megacities of our region.
– And a surge in the displacement of people in steadily submerged islands adjacent to Australia.

ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES
But the point I want to put new emphasis on today is that every environmental consequence, carries with it a massive economic cost.

A 1.1 metre rise in the sea level, would mean $226 thousand million worth of commercial, industrial, road, rail and residential assets around Australia’s coasts would be damaged by flooding and erosion.

Heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other natural disaster and deaths are projected to double over the next 40 years in Australian cities.

And this will only be part of, hundreds of millions of dollars in increased health costs: respiratory and cardiac conditions in particular.

Two months ago, the respected Medical Journal, Lancet, declared climate change a “medical emergency” It warned – if we don’t act, we will undermine all the good progress made in public health in the last half-century.

And drought will affect Australia’s GDP.

From 2020 onwards, the predicted increase in drought frequency is estimated to cost $7.3 billion annually – reducing GDP by 1%, per annum. This is the cost of inaction. And the longer we leave it, the more expensive it will become.

This is the price of failure – a price our children should not have to pay in the future. And a price the world’s most vulnerable people will pay if we do not act.

As Pope Francis wrote this year: “The gravest effects of all the attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”

LIBERAL TARGET and DIRECT ACTION
But this is the exact risk we run, with the Liberals sub-prime emissions reduction target and their substandard policy.

The government’s target puts Australia at the back of the developed nation pack.
And we have still not seen a skerrick of evidence to suggest this diminished ambition will get us anywhere near the goal of 2 degrees reduction.

It is no secret that the Prime Minister’s core constituency still does not accept the science of climate change. But, even accounting for ideology, the Liberal target is also fundamental vote of no-confidence in their Direct Action Policy.

Without an emissions trading scheme, without investing in renewable energy, without modernising our overall energy sector – it doesn’t matter what number the government picks – they won’t get there.

The majority of their proposed emissions reductions come from:
– An unspecified safeguard mechanism.
– An unknown energy efficiency plan.
– An unannounced vehicle efficiency policy.

And a ‘miscellaneous’ category: “technology improvements and others sources “.
These are the ‘breakthroughs’ the government plans to deliver by abolishing ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

By cutting funding for the bureau of meteorology and the CSIRO. And by slashing money from Australia’s universities, including over $200 million from this one.

Direct Action is a waste of money built on one counter-productive idea: giving great wads of taxpayer cash to big polluters to keep polluting.

Only last week, Reputex reported that under Tony Abbotts policy emissions will actually rise by 20% over the next decade in spite of all the money paid to polluters.

This is as Malcolm Turnbull once said: “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

And I don’t believe, in hard economic times, we can afford to waste taxpayer money on a plan that won’t work. So, today I announce a Labor Government will put a stop to this.

We will not continue to subsidise windfalls for companies that are already acting. Yes, we will honour contracts that the Government has entered into, but the largesse ends there.

Based on the remaining uncommitted funding allocated in the 2014 Budget, and the additional $2.4 billion announced this week, abolishing this program today represents a saving of up to $4.3 billion.

There is a better, cheaper, faster and more efficient way for Australia to tackle climate change.

And at the centre of this, is renewable energy.

RENEWABLE ENERGY
Australia has some of the best renewable assets in the world. More sunlight than any other continent. And we are also one of the windiest places on earth.

We have enough renewable energy resources to power our country 500 times over. And last month, Labor set a bold new goal for renewable energy.

We have said, by 2030, 50% of Australia’s electricity should come from renewable energy.

This is not about leading the world – it’s about catching up.

China is making massive investments in renewables. India is pursuing a ‘saffron revolution’ in solar.

I want Australia to get our fair share of the $2.5 trillion in investment in renewables in the Asia-Pacific region by 2030.

Australian State and Territory governments are already on board.
– The ACT has a target of 90% by 2020
– South Australia has a target of 50% by 2025
– Queensland has a target of 50% by 2030

And our city councils are leading too.

The City of Sydney has pledged to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. But as a Melburnian – I should say – we’ll have net zero emissions by the year 2020.

So often, people underestimate the speed of technological change.

In 1980, American telco, AT&T commissioned a study to forecast cellphone use by the year 2000. They predicted 900,000 users. The actual figure was 109 million. Today it’s 6.9 billion.

The same is true for renewable energy. At the start of this century, experts predicted that worldwide wind capacity would reach 30 gigawatts by 2010. They were wrong.

By 2010 this goal was exceeded by a factor of 6, by the end of last year, a factor of 12. At the same time, it was said that the solar energy market would grow by one gigawatt a year by 2010. This year, it will be exceeded by more than 50 times.

People are talking about waiting for the day when renewable energy will be on par with traditional sources.

But as Deutsche Bank said in January: “parity without subsidies is already here”.

Consider this: In 1976 the cost of solar cells was $79.40 a watt. In 2014, it’s 69 cents a watt. In the last five years, solar photovoltaic prices have fallen by 75%, and wind power costs have fallen by 14%.

Over the next five years – costs are projected to halve, making solar the cheapest form of electricity generation in many parts of the world. And the cost of battery storage has been halving every 18 months.

The trend is unstoppable.

For the first time, new global investment in renewables exceeds new investment in traditional sources. And I believe Australia can be a clean energy superpower.

We can be one of the best markets in the world for this new technology. But we can’t rely on the market alone – there is a constructive role government has to play.

Providing the right policies, sending the right signals and demonstrating the right leadership. This is the why Labor’s goal for renewable energy matters.

Our goal will:
– Provide certainty and confidence for investors.
– Encourage research and development in great institutions like this one.
– Foster the right regulatory framework, allowing industries to thrive by generating their own power.
– And managing the transition to a clean energy economy in a fair way, without leaving Australian workers behind.

As decades pass, fossil fuel extraction is occurring in more and more challenging locations…deep below the ocean or from coal seams and shale beds.

And as you would expect, this process has become more and more expensive.
If we don’t modernise our energy system, we are putting our international competitiveness at risk.

And when it comes to fossil fuels, we are bumping our heads on the ceiling of efficiency, our combined effort and investment is generating a diminishing return.
Contrast this with solar.

This university holds the world record for solar efficiency. And that is 40%.
This means there is still, theoretically, 60% of untapped potential.

I want Australian universities, Australian innovators and Australian researchers to explore this – for the world.

HOUSEHOLD SOLAR
Just as large scale renewable costs have declined dramatically, household renewable energy technology has followed.

Globally, Bloomberg is estimating a $3.7 trillion expansion of solar through to 2040.
And nearly 60 cents in every dollar will flow through to rooftop solar –more than $2 trillion.

We’re talking about a seismic shift in the energy mix of developed and developing countries. This global movement is being driven by individual consumers. It is easy to see why.

The upfront and operating costs of solar power are decreasing at a remarkable speed.
Over 15,000 Australian small businesses have already taken up small scale solar, and taken control of their bills.

More than 1.4 million Australian families have embraced household solar power.
One in three houses in Queensland. One in five houses here in New South Wales.

Right now, a homeowner here in New South Wales could get an upfront loan of $4,000 and install a 3 kW system on their roof. They will see their power bills decline from day one, and have the system fully paid off within five to seven years.

Bloomberg have said, within five years: a 4 kilowatt of rooftop solar panels, with a 5 kilowatt hour battery will give you cheaper electricity than you get off the grid.
This is a consumer revolution, as much as it is an energy transformation.
Empowering Australian households, communities and businesses.

Putting control back in the hands of the user, shifting the balance away from big power companies.

In Australia today there are now over 1 million self-generators – mums and dads, small businesses and local councils.

Renewable energy is giving freedom and choice to millions of Australians. And remote communities are able to secure reliable and cheap electricity.

These benefits will continue to multiply, as more efficient battery storage and smart meter technology become more common.

Mr Abbott’s right. This is, partly, a debate about electricity bills. He’s just on the wrong side.

But renewable energy is not just about the environment, it’s not just about a more competitive price environment for consumers – it’s about jobs.
The good jobs and modern industries of the future. 20,000 Australians work in our renewable industry.

This will at least double by 2030: with more jobs in advanced manufacturing, installation, maintenance and in programming and development.

This is the case for renewable energy: new jobs, new investment, new industries.

Cutting pollution, downward pressure on prices and more empowered consumers, businesses and farmers. And what is the case against?
Well… Tony Abbott rode his bike near a windmill once and didn’t like it.

Joe Hockey drives past a windfarm on his way to Canberra and he finds it ‘utterly offensive’ …and that’s about it.

Millions of dollars of investment, tens of thousands of jobs…an entire future industry…hostage to the Prime Minister’s personal prejudice and the Treasurer’s delicate taste.
This is not leadership, this is gambling.

And as the stakes get higher, Australia cannot afford to double-down on denial.

For more than 30 years, we’ve had the very best science on our side. Evidence mounting, every year. And perhaps for too long, we have assumed that this is enough. That the case would make itself. But that’s not how the world works.

Reform is not inevitable – and progress is never guaranteed. It’s not enough to know you’re on the right side of history, the argument has to be won.

Labor will lead on climate change, we will set the direction. But whether Australia chooses action, or delay… Whether we succeed, or fail, is up to all of us.
We have to make action on climate change the common cause of all Australians.

So, friends, a decade from now… when the students among us have graduated. When the researchers among us have been published, and acclaimed. When our children are adults.
When governments have come and gone.

We can look back on this day and these times and say we were the generation that broke the shackles of denialism.

We were the ones who set the course for a renewable energy future – and the jobs, investment and opportunity it brings.

We can say when the world gathered in Paris to choose a way forward… Australia stood up to be counted.

We can say when the question was put, When the moment came. Australians proved, once again, we were smart enough and brave enough to seize the opportunity for action.

* Bill Shorten is leader of the federal Labor opposition. This is an edited version of a speech he gave today at the University of NSW for the Chifley Research Centre.

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