As Australia’s recession continues, we need to turn to renewables to power Australia’s economic recovery.
The old arguments for building renewables were only about lowering our emissions and looking after the planet. Then the case for building renewables evolved to focus on one thing – they are cheaper.
Now, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a new and crucial reason to heavily invest in renewable energy and that is jobs.
The smart money is already moving towards clean, reliable and cheap energy as the world grapples with its changing climate.
A 2019 ANU study found that Australia already has the highest per capita growth in renewable energy deployment compared to China, the US, the EU and Japan.
This is hardly surprising given we have an abundance of potential renewable power within our borders.
But in order to grow our economy and create new markets we must take advantage of the future demand for cheap, clean and reliable power.
This is even more important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as we face global shifts and uncertainties.
China and India have already signalled a desire to increasingly use domestically produced coal in preference to imports.
Purely relying on fossil fuel exports to grow the Australian economy won’t deliver the advanced and complex economy we know is needed to ensure long term, resilient and inclusive growth.
The renewable sector needs both skilled and non-skilled workers. And given the labour-intensive nature of renewable energy combined with its rising demand, these are jobs we can count on to be around in the decades to come.
Across the country, there are already approximately 230,000 jobs in the environment and sustainable sector.
This includes Australians working in renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste, water treatment, environmental science services, national parks and botanical gardens.
These are important jobs, and these are the sectors where much of the future growth can occur.
There is still an important role for mining to play in the Australian economy but as the markets change, so must we.
Most of the nation’s coal exports are metallurgical coal – which is still vital to the production of steel and used, amongst other things, to build wind farms.
However, the rapid technological advancement in the production of steel through renewables also gives us a great opportunity to invest in cleaner technologies.
Anthony Albanese has also pointed out the future potential in rare earth minerals and new carbon capture industries. “Just as coal and iron ore fuelled the industrial economies of the 20th century, [rare earth and forestry] will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st.”
When the car industry was struggling, the Liberal Party let it disappear rather than interfere with the free market. So why are they so determined to prop up coal when the free market won’t touch it?
If the Coalition wants to fund new coal-fired power projects like their proposed Collinsville plant, they would have to provide an estimated $17 billion of taxpayer dollars in funding for it to survive and compete.
It makes no economic sense and flies in the face of free market economics, which the government claims to support.
The Government has identified technology as its preferred path to reducing our emissions – but it hasn’t explained what policies will deliver the technological solutions we know have existed for years.
Rather than delivering a significant investment in technological or scientific research, this government has a long history of cutting science, technology and research funding.
For example, they still refuse to secure the future of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which has been supporting cutting edge renewable technology development by getting new technologies from research to delivery since the last Labor government established it in 2012.
Industry is desperate for a national policy from the Federal Government to provide the policy certainty they need to invest and create jobs.
As the RBA has noted because of this Government’s lack of energy policy, investment in renewables collapsed by more than 50 per cent in 2019. Which at this time hurts even more because that simply means less jobs being created in Australia.
It will be an historical failure of the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison era if the Government fails to land a lasting and legitimate energy policy.
The clumsy political approach of the Morrison government to climate change has also deeply affected our relationship with our Asia Pacific neighbours.
Instead of ignoring their concerns, Australia should be innovating and offering cheaper and cleaner energy exports to the region.
The proposed Sun Cable Consortium is looking to invest $20 billion in the world’s largest solar powered energy export project.
Singapore is looking to diversify its energy reliance on the old technology and Australia will potentially be the beneficiary.
If realised, this project alone would create 1,000 jobs and transform the Northern Territory into a world leader in solar energy it can export and use to power local industry.
As the world shifts priority and focus so must Australia. Why wouldn’t we get on board the renewables boom and set ourselves apart as a global leader, to benefit our economy as much as our environment?
We need to be creative and ambitious with our thinking. Beyond Zero Emissions is developing a “Million Jobs Plan” in the renewable industry and there’s no reason we can’t make that a reality.
And if we want to extract ourselves from this massive economic downturn, we need to create new jobs in line with international demand.
Australia can be a clean energy superpower that is powered by good, secure and sustainable jobs.
Josh Burns is an Australian Labor Party MP, and federal member for Macnamara