Malcolm Turnbull: (eight days before the 2010 federal election)
You know, it’s an interesting thing, Quentin made the point that this issue, this issue of clean energy and climate change has not been at the forefront of this election. And Bob Carr just said to me a moment ago that he didn’t think there were any media covering this meeting tonight, I don’t know whether that’s true or not. But it is remarkable that on a cold winters night this issue has managed to fill the town hall. And that tells you something *Audience Claps* that tells you something about the extent of the concern that Australians have about climate change and the interest in and hunger for information and knowledge about the way we can deal with it and the way we can move, as we must move, if we are to effectively combat climate change to a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero emissions sources.
Now our response to climate change must be guided by science. The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got. We are dealing in scientific terms with enormous uncertainty. There is a tendency for people to point to the forecasts for the future, sea levels, temperatures, other impacts of climate change and say oh well you know they’ve over egged the pudding a little bit, it’s probably going to be less dramatic than that. But we are dealing with uncertainty and it may well be and indeed there is considerable evidence, that it may well be that many of these forecasts that we’ve become so used to, in fact err on the conservative side.
We are told that 2010 will be the warmest year on record since records began in the late eighteen hundreds. We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic. We know that extreme weather events are occurring with greater and greater frequency and while it is never possible to point to one drought or one storm or one flood and say that particular incident is caused by global warming, we know that these trends are entirely consistent with the climate change forecasts with the climate models that the scientists are relying on. Just in the last month floods and landslides have killed thousands in Kashmir, Poland, Pakistan, Korea and China. Russia has lost at least 30% of its grain crop due to the worst fires in that country’s history.
Now sometimes the task of responding to the challenge of climate change may seem too great, too daunting. It is a profound moral challenge, because it is a cross generational challenge. We are asking our own generation to make decisions; to make sacrifices, to make expenditures today so as to safeguard our children, their children and the generations that come after them. It truly requires us to think as a species, not just to think as individuals. We are not, as Edmund Burke reminded us so many years ago, like flies of the summer that just come and go without any knowledge of what went before and what will come after. We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us **Audience Applause**
Now in order to do that, in order to discharge that obligation, we must make a dramatic reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now you can look at the targets, 50% the common sort of rubric rule of thumb is to cut emissions by 2050 to a level equal to 50% or even lower than they were in 1990 or 2000. I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut, you cannot achieve it without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy, that is to say energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero emission sources. The mathematics simply will not get you there, the arithmetic, not as complex as mathematics. The arithmetic will not get you there unless you can do it. And so technology is of absolutely vital importance.
Now I want to congratulate Matthew and all the authors and collaborators on this report. This is a fantastic piece of work. Many people will look at it and they’ll say it’s too good to be true. And we all know that often when things are too good to be true, they probably are. But let me give you one piece of data, one fact, one insight which should give you encouragement as you read this report.
You’ll see that the key technology that this project relies upon is concentrated solar thermal power. As you know the great challenge with renewable sources of energy; solar and wind in particular, is that they are intermittent. So what do we do when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. How do we store that power. There’s a very detailed discussion that the authors will go through with you tonight, and I won’t even begin to canvas it. But there is the ability with concentrated solar thermal power stations to use the suns energy to superheat a substance, in this case molten salt, that will hold its heat for long enough to be able to continue to generate steam and hence energy after the sun has stopped shining or during or day after day of rain. So there is a real opportunity there, with that technology, to generate baseload power from solar energy something of a holy grail.
Now there are some small plants in operation that are doing just that now and there are a number of much larger plants that are about to be commissioned. But you might still say, not unreasonably, look this has not really been proven at a big industrial scale and you’d probably be right. But let me say this to you, concentrated solar thermal is a more proven technology than clean coal is. *Audience applause*
Now when I was your environment minister, I spent a lot of your taxes on technologies designed to reduce our emissions including clean coal, including solar energy, including technologies to economically store electricity so that renewable sources of energy could provide baseload power, but one of the things and it’s a sobering thing to bear in mind and those of us who follow the literature on clean coal would be aware of this, that despite all of the money and all of the hope that has been put into carbon capture and storage there is still, as of today, not one industrial scale coal fired power station using carbon capture and storage, not one.
Now this is a frightening prospect because if you look at the work that is done by the International Energy Agency or any number of bodies or think tanks that study how we can model our way to a low emissions future, clean coal is a very big part of the assumption and while I believe as a matter of prudence we should continue to invest and pursue that technology, you do start to get something of a sinking feeling as you contemplate the fact that the hope of the side has not yet stepped onto the field to play his first game, it’s a real challenge.
So all of that underlines, firstly, don’t be too skeptical about this, this is a good piece of work and the most radical technology in it is far from unproved. Secondly let’s remember governments should not be picking technologies. It’s tough enough for the private sector to pick technologies. It’s almost invariably the case that governments will get it wrong, that is why in the long term and really sooner rather than later, we must have a price on carbon.
We need to send that price signal to the market that encourages the step changes in technology that will transform our economy and it may be that concentrated solar thermal wins the day, it may be that super-efficient photovoltaics sprint ahead, it may be, despite my rather gloomy prognosis, it may be that carbon capture and storage suddenly leaps into the fore or it may be that they all have a role to play but without that carbon price you will not and cannot unleash the ingenuity, the infinite ingenuity of millions of people around the world who once they know what the rules are, once they know what the price is, will then start to work to ensure that they have presented to us and to the world the technologies that enable us to move to that low emission future.
Government support for innovation and investment in clean stationary energy is important, particularly at the early stages. It is much more important to focus on cutting edge technologies as to provide support for research into the basic science than with appallingly designed policies such as the recent cash for clunkers policy which delivers carbon abatement at a price almost $400 a tonne. I mean it is really a mockery of a climate change policy.
Now we must give the planet the benefit of the doubt, we must act now. Now the coalition as you know, no longer supports a market based mechanism to put a price on carbon and I regret that, none the less it has pledged if elected to introduce policies which by purchasing carbon offsets has the potential to meet the 2020 target of a 5% reduction from 2000 levels. On the other hand, and this is I guess the depressing prospect, the Labor party which was elected in 2007 on a platform of meeting the greatest moral challenge of our times now has no policy and sadly nothing more than what appears to be a notice for a meeting. No leadership and no conviction.
I want to congratulate Matthew again and all his team for this extraordinary piece of work. It is very important work. It provides the most comprehensive technical blueprint yet for what our engineers, our scientists can begin to do for us tomorrow. I commend them for their work, we’re deeply indebted to you all for this work and I encourage them and others to take note of this and to build on it as we work together, I trust, to a zero-emission future, we know, is absolutely essential if we are to leave a safe planet to our children and the generations that come after them. Thank-you very much.
Mr Turnbull was correct in predicting 2010 would be the hottest year on record, until it was overtaken by 2014, then 2015, then 2016. The threat has not decreased Malcolm, just the quality of the debate.
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