I have been in the energy and environmental markets for many years and I want to share some of the history of the clean energy sector for clarity purposes given the political toxicity on this issue.

John Howard was Prime Minister from March 1996 to December 2007, and during his time as leader of the Liberal party/National party Coalition government, he introduced and implemented some of the following innovative and progressive policies:

  • 1997 – Australia made a commitment at Kyoto to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of the 1990 baseline measurement, that is an increase in emissions.
  • To assist with the above commitment, the Howard government created the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO). It was an international first – the world’s first agency dedicated to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 1998 – the agency was given standalone status to provide a “whole of government“ approach to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 2000 – Gwen Andrews, then head of the AGO, said “Australia is engaged in a consultation process domestically on establishment of a domestic emissions trading regime. If adopted we intend that it would fully integrate with the global regime once the Kyoto protocol comes into force. Such a system would have the effect of pricing carbon and driving emission reductions in and efficient and cost effective way.” She goes on to add “we have released for public information, discussion papers on an emissions trading regime. The first covers the boundaries of what a domestic scheme should cover, the second examines options on the issuing of permits, the third covers the crediting of carbon and the fourth looks at the design of the market.”
  • 2000 – the Howard government commits $400 million in subsidies over four years under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program to assist Australia deliver a low-cost abatement to partially meet its Kyoto commitment.
  • 2001 – after two years of preparation, the Howard government introduced the Renewable Energy Target, which was a very basic target of two per cent renewables generation by 2010.
  • 2003 – Bob Carr introduced the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme in NSW, one of the world’s first emissions trading schemes, which is to this day still counted against our Kyoto liability. Through this scheme, the price went from $13.50 down to $3.50 per tonne of abatement, the best abatement verifiable and least cost.
  • 2006 – Howard introduced what is known as the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program, where the top 500 companies had to report what opportunities they have to conserve energy. They had two years to get ready, so industry was “eased” into it and the first reporting year was 2008.
  • 2007 – the Howard government implemented the National Greenhouse & Energy Reporting System, requiring the top 500 Australian companies to report what is known as their Scope 1 & 2 emissions, in preparation for emissions trading.
  • At this point the Coalition lost government. Howard had gone to the election brandishing a 15 per cent renewable energy target but was outdone by Rudd who raised the ante up to 20 per cent by 2020.
  • 2010 – the new Rudd Labor government was to introduce the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but it did not gain sufficient political support and was deferred.
  • 2011 – Gillard introduced the Carbon Price Mechanism as part of the Clean Energy Futures Package.
  • 2014 – the new Abbott government repealed the Carbon Price.

As a nation, we cannot keep accepting ad hoc policy variations and dysfunction for purely political gain. We keep accepting the politically convenient line dished out to us, “it is our adversarial system,” when at best it is simplistic ideological differences and at worst it is political bastardry of the worst kind putting our economy, jobs, children and our grandchildren at risk. We need to demand strong and real bipartisan action on the issue of climate change.

Cover illustration via Union of Concerned Scientists