Bowen talks of turning climate ambitions into reality


Speaking at the Australian Clean Energy Summit in Sydney on Tuesday, Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the federal government will develop plans across six key economic sectors: electricity and energy, industry, the built environment, agriculture and land, transport, and resources.

“The sector plans will feed in to both our Net Zero 2050 plan and strong 2035 targets which we will lodge in keeping with our Paris commitments,” he said.

Bowen was blunt in assessment of Australia’s current Net Zero 2050 plan, labelling it a “fantasy, invented by the Morrison government. It assumes future technologies will do the heavy lifting without any effort or investment to bring them about,” he said.

The energy minister added that the federal government will seek statutory advice from the Climate Change Authority on the 2035 target and expected to receive that advice in late 2024.

Industry consultation

The decarbonisation plan was light on specific detail, but Bowen stressed that strong engagement with community and industry would be central to the plan.

“The level and quality of dialogue and collaboration with industries, experts and citizens will set these plans apart from anything that’s been done before,” he said. “This is a shared endeavour: we must work together to do what’s both possible and practical to stop dangerous climate change and realise the economic opportunities of net zero.”

Bowen explained that the responsibility of developing each sector plan would be shared by his Federal Cabinet colleagues. Ed Husic will look after industry and the built environment, Tanya Plibersek and Murray Watt will take on agriculture and land, Madeleine King would be in charge of resources, and Catherine King would develop the plan for transport.

The waste sector, Bowen added, would be included in the industry plan but the focus on the circular economy would be a “cross-cutting issue” for all sectors.

Positive response

The plan for a cross-sector approach to decarbonisation was welcomed by the Australian Energy Council (AEC), the nation’s peak body for energy retailers and generators.

“Achieving a 43% emission reduction by 2030 will necessitate sectors in addition to electricity to begin to decarbonise,” AEC Chief Executive Sarah McNamara said. “We know that as emissions get closer to net zero, abatement will only become more challenging and more costly, so updating Australia’s Net Zero Plan now is timely.

“Determining sectoral pathways for key emitters in the economy is critical to the delivery of Net Zero by 2050.”

McNamara noted that Australia’s electricity sector has already decreased its emissions by 26.9% since their peak in 2009 and is expected to shoulder the bulk of the decline in emissions to 2030.

In his address, Bowen also reiterated the federal government’s commitment to renewable energy in the face of nuclear alternatives. He pointed to a GenCost report, released Tuesday by the CSIRO and Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that confirmed wind and solar remained the cheapest new-build energy generation.

“The latest Gencost Report, out today in fact, confirms that the more we learn about small modular reactors (SMRs), the more expensive they get,” Bowen said.

“SMRs, even with all the supposed technological advancement coming this decade, are tracking to be up to five times more expensive than firmed wind and solar in 2030.”

Earlier, Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton had laid the groundwork for Bowen’s thoughts about nuclear energy.

“Next-generation nuclear has not yet been invented or demonstrated and must be seen for what it is in Australia – another distraction promoted by bad-faith actors with no genuine interest in emissions reductions, energy security or lowering power prices,” Thornton said.

“If we had listened to them, we wouldn’t have built the hydro schemes, a bridge over Sydney’s harbour, or the overland telegraph that first connected us to the world. We wouldn’t have Wifi. These are acts of courage and foresight that now define our nation.”

Thornton used his opening remarks to emphasise the urgency of Australia’s need to increase its renewable energy capacity in the wake of the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“We are now in a global clean energy investment race – and are losing,” he said. “While we can and should manufacture more clean energy equipment in Australia, for now we are dependent on global supply chains. To become a clean energy superpower, we will need to do more than dig and ship our mineral resources.

“More importantly, we will only become a clean energy superpower if we decarbonise our own energy system. Fast.”

Thornton noted that the current average annual output of approximately 3 GW of rooftop solar and 3 GW of large-scale renewables would need to double if Australia is to meet its target of 82% renewable energy by 2030.

The CEC head also called on the Federal Government to extend the Renewable Energy Target (RET). “Extending it beyond 2030 would be simple and fast, and the benefits to energy prices and the Australian economy will outweigh the costs associated with this extension,” he said.

“These are the actions and leadership we now need to turn ambition into reality.”

Author: Chad Bennett

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