Kevin Rudd sure wasn’t joking when he told us during the election campaign that his first act in office would be to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Barely had he and deputy Julia Gillard been sworn in when he and the Governor General adjourned to another room to sign the necessary papers, even before the rest of the cabinet took their oaths. The urgency of doing so was perhaps partly to do with the Bali Talks getting under way on the same day as the swearing in, but more importantly, the move was symbolic in that it was intended to send a strong message to the rest of the world that Australia has changed tack on climate change.
While that is important, the real challenge still remains ahead. Climate change policy will come at a cost, and despite the evidence that the cost of inaction is greater, many people will feel the pinch as energy costs and the cost of living increase. The point has been made that we cannot continue to consume and sell coal as we have been if we are to make a genuine difference to greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, out economy can’t afford to simply abandon coal, at least not yet.
While the way ahead globally should be to move away from coal, Australia still has a tremendous vested interest in continuing to export it. This is a dichotomy that won’t be easy to reconcile. Longer term however, it will be imperative that Australia becomes a world leader in alternative energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal, just as we have been world leaders in minerals.
That’s the key to ensuring long term prosperity.