AUSTRALIA’S ENERGY [R]evolution is a useful tool for the climate movement. Greenpeace researchers have drawn together the best science and technology to build a concrete and achievable vision of a viable transition to a low-emission society.

There is a central tension in the report. The research shows that government action is needed to create immediate and effective changes. But Greenpeace wants an audience with the neo-liberal Rudd government—leading them to concede to market-based schemes such as emissions trading.

Energy [R]evolution measures

  • Renewable energy: 40 per cent of our electricity provided by renewable sources by 2020

Currently only 9.2 per cent of Australia’s electricity is generated by renewable energy, the vast majority of which is hydro. The Rudd government’s current meager target is 20 per cent by 2020.

  • Energy efficiency: Australia can cut its energy consumption by 16 per cent by 2020

Australia’s energy consumption is projected to grow 29 per cent by 2020, making energy efficiency measures crucial. These also create cost savings that can pay for other programs.

The excellent thing about the Energy [R]evolution proposal for this saving is that it is not created by asking householders to “tighten their belts”. The report calls for legislated manufacturing and building standards, backed up by annual government targets of 2 per cent reduction in energy demand. Structural factors, not individual “choices” to change light-bulbs and have shorter showers, are what can really reduce energy consumption.

For instance, rather than moralising about the length of showers we take, the Energy [R]evolution calls for water heaters to be built with a mandatory greenhouse standard, and for a national government program of retrofitting houses, offices and workplaces to install the systems.

Energy [R]evolution modelling shows that government programs for mandatory energy efficiency can create between 23,000 and 50,000 direct new jobs.

  • Using electricity for the transport system and cutting consumption of fossil fuels through standards governing fuel efficiency.
  • Coal-fired power can be phased out entirely by 2030

The Energy [R]evolution shows that reducing electricity usage and transitioning to gas-fired generators can reduce emissions while wind and solar power capacity is built up to replace coal altogether. The report echoes the call of other climate groups for a moratorium on new coal.

Climate activists may disagree about some of the targets and time-frames used in the Energy [R]evolution measures, but Greenpeace researchers have rightly identified the central problem in Australia’s emissions: coal-fired electricity generation.

Jobs and prices

Importantly, the Energy [R]evolution grasps the centrality of responding to class concerns about rising electricity costs and job losses. The basis of their modelling ensures that electricity remains affordable for ordinary households, and that more jobs are created.

Another new Greenpeace report uses the Newcastle region in NSW as a case study for how the government could transition these communities from coal-related jobs to well-paid, unionised green jobs. The Energy [R]evolution scenario creates 10,000 net jobs in power generation, and at least another 30,000 in other measures. These figures help activists combat populism being embraced by Brendan Nelson and some union officials, who claim climate action means job losses.

Odd one out

The second recommendation in the Energy [R]evolution is for an ETS. This demand sits amongst six others that call for legislated targets for renewable electricity generation, legislated caps on greenhouse emissions, and “massive” government investment in the renewables sector.

However, nothing in the Energy [R]evolution report suggests how the authors think an ETS will reduce emissions. In fact they argue “An ETS… must be complemented by a suite of policies… that will drive rapid and deep emissions cuts”.

We have to ask why the call for the ETS is there at all. The “suite of policies” which the report can show will work, don’t sit together with an ETS. The essence of the market scheme is to avoid government legislation and funding of this transformation (see page 11).

The fight to implement the Energy [R]evolution involves building opposition to the notion that emissions trading can do anything to reduce our emissions. It needs to build popular opposition to the inadequate policies contained in the federal government’s new Green Paper. This fight needs to start now on the campuses and in the emerging climate coalitions.

By Jean Parker

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