I don’t have a problem per se with John Howard’s announcement yesterday of a $500 million program to subsidise the development of currently non-commercial “low carbon emission” technologies. It’s fairly clearly aimed mostly at development of so-called “carbon sequestration” technologies to collect CO2 emitted by coal-fired power stations and pump it undergound in liquefied form, but there doesn’t seem any reason why other low emission (or non-emission) technologies like hydrogen fuel might not also qualify (although I confess I haven’t read the fine print).
Even if only the coal industry were to benefit, however, that’s no reason in itself to object. The most optimistic boosters of renewable energy technologies (primarily solar and wind power) don’t assert that it could meet any more than 20% of Australia’s energy needs in the foreseeable future. Thus 80% or more will necessarily continue to be generated by burning coal (Australia’s reserves of which are good for several hundred years), so it manifestly makes sense (both in environmental and economic terms) to expend effort and money on trying to develop ways in which coal can be burned without releasing CO2 to the atmosphere. Greenie objections to this part of the Howard package smack more than a little of hypocrisy and wilfully blind double standards.
The real problems with Howard’s ‘environment’ package lie in its other initiatives:
- Providing cuts to excise on diesel fuel to miners and farmers amounting to $1.5 billion (albeit over a long period) appears to be just plain irresponsible. This is the precise opposite of environmental responsibility. The trouble is, it may just help to shore up Coalition votes in country Australia, where many Coalition marginal seats are located. That, of course, is why the initiative was included. I assume Howard is hoping that most voters won’t notice this disgracefully irresponsible measure. So far he’d be more than happy with public and media responses, because the diesel fuel initiative has received next to no coverage. The $500 million for “low emission” technologies has received most of the media attention, even though, as I observed above, most people other than greenie zealots will rightly regard it as a perfectly sensible policy.
An enforceable target of at least 5% should have been set for renewable energy sources (rather than sticking with the current 2% target), to further Australia’s world-leading performance in solar panel technology by ensuring an ongoing local market. About half of the $134 million promised for renewable energy (over a long period of time) is in any event funding previously announced; this is a derisory commitment by comparison with the rest of the package;