Too often this issue is hijacked by emotion and appeals to passion. If we really wish to see effective action on climate change then what is needed is cool-headed reason and the building of consensus, not apocalypticism and the demonisation of large swathes of human culture.
The evidence for human-induced climate change grows more compelling by the day, as does the seriousness of purpose needed to comprehensively address it.
But though there is no scope for complacency, some optimism and belief in the ingenuity of humans is called for.
New technology, market forces and human behaviour are shifting our emissions curve in the right direction, as a recent report from the Australian National University makes clear.
The ANU report found that “Australia’s world-leading per-capita rate of deployment of solar and wind energy is displacing fossil fuel combustion”, and that “continued deployment of solar and wind at current rates allows Australia to meet its Paris emissions target at low or zero net cost”.
It is a remarkable fact that Australia’s deployment of solar and wind energy is happening at ten times faster than the world average.
In the first weeks of 2020, Australia will tick past 25 gigawatts of wind and solar generation, meaning we will have joined the “kilowatt per capita” club. Only two other countries have made it thus far: Denmark and Germany. This is the equivalent of a medium-sized solar power system for every Australian household.
More remarkably, 40 per cent of this capacity has been installed over the past two years, at world record pace. And, unlike Europe, we do not have the benefit of a dispersed and widely connected grid, with access to baseload nuclear power.
There is more to be done, but it shows that the facts are quickly leaving the doomsayers behind.
Our energy system is already in transition towards a lower carbon future, driven by technology, the continued decline in price for renewables, and market forces. The challenge for governments is to help make this transition as smooth as possible.
More renewables in the grid requires more investment in energy storage, grid capacity, and network infrastructure, to keep reliability high and prices steady given the intermittent nature of solar and wind.
Future on track
This is exactly what the government is doing.
We are investing in Snowy 2.0, a pumped hydro storage project that will be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, storing some 350,000 MW hours of energy.
We are helping build a second interconnector between Victoria and Tasmania, better connecting Tasmania to the mainland grid and giving us access to its considerable pumped hydro capacity.
We are underwriting the Queensland to New South Wales interconnector, another vital piece of network infrastructure which will strengthen the backbone of the national energy market.
Last week we announced the establishment of a new $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, that will be used for investment in further new energy generation, storage and transmission infrastructure.
The Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, is working on a hydrogen strategy and advising us on how we can become a major exporter of hydrogen produced from renewable sources.
Down the track, we will need to look at options for further electrification of the economy, particularly in the transport sector, to take greater advantage of low-emissions energy.
By working with the grain of new technology and market forces, we are making the transition to a lower carbon future with as little disruption as possible.
Rather than engaging in semantic debates about whether to declare something an “emergency”, or joining in the latest round of self-flagellation, we are simply getting on with the job.
Thomas Malthus predicted in the late 18th century that the world’s capacity for food production could not keep up with its population growth, with the result being widespread famine and other catastrophes.
He was wrong, having failed to account for advances in agricultural technology. The world’s population has increased eightfold since his time, and the average person today is better fed and nourished.
New forms of energy generation and accompanying technology, and their rapid uptake, promise to upend many of today’s similarly linear projections.
Our challenge is to embrace the relentless march of technology, work in concert with market forces, and facilitate this positive transition.
And we need to work in concert with the rest of the world in encouraging global action – because Australia cannot solve this problem acting alone.