The federal government's recent decision not to extend renewable energy targets inevitably means Australia has locked itself out of a burgeoning and growing industry. Maybe if it wasn't an election year, Howard's focus would be tinged a bit greener.

WHAT a difference a few weeks make. First we had John Howard's white paper on Australia's energy industry basically ignoring renewable energy, while handing out millions of dollars to the biggest polluters in the country, the coal industry. Then just couple of weeks later, the Australian Climate Group (convened by WWF Australia and Insurance Australia Group) released a report warning of the dire consequences if we don't slash our greenhouse emissions.

It seems ironic that while local coal producers are reporting huge profit increases, mainly due to unprecedented demand from China, here we have Canberra gifting them $500m to help them clean up their act by pumping their pollution underground. Admittedly, there are several merits in the coal companies' side of the argument; we do have one hell of a lot of coal, but much more can be done to promote exciting new renewable energy technologies.

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Australia does have other resources in abundance which could lead to new niche industries. We have an abundance of wind, solar and bio-mass resources. These new technologies are growing at 30% per year globally, and Australia is well placed to capture these new markets. The worry is, after Howard's decision not to increase the mandatory renewable energy target above the current 2%, much of the local research into solar and wind energy will now go offshore. In contrast, the UK is set to install a record 325MW of new wind power generating capacity this year with 12 new wind farms.

The UK is already a European leader in terms of installed wind power capacity and even back in 2002 it had a fleet of nearly 1,000 wind turbines. The UK government plans to create a £1bn market for renewable energy by 2010. The driving force behind this ambition is the introduction of a 'Renewables Obligation' under which electricity suppliers will have to provide 10% of their output from renewable sources such the wind, waves and sun. For more info visit

Rather than helping the coal industry to delay complying with the Kyoto protocol, the $500m could have been used to set up reasonable targets on renewable energy use and introduce emission trading certificates to harness market-based policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. By lifting renewable energy targets, Canberra could have actually taken a positive step towards boosting alternative energy sources to the overwhelming coal based power stations in use today. The Australian Climate Group (ACG) report, Climate Change: Solutions for Australia, demonstrates how global warming is already affecting Australia.

The report shows how vulnerable our country is to even the lowest predicted levels of climate change, levels that now seem inevitable. The report points to city water catchments drying up, droughts and bush fires becoming more severe, plus the frequency and severity

An alliance of commercial and scientific experts, the ACG, recommends a dramatic cut in Australia's greenhouse gases of 60% by 2050, and an emissions trading scheme by 2007. The ACG's advice challenges the current plans of Canberra to leave similar cuts in greenhouse emissions until the end of this century. Of course, very few of us will still be around then to see who got it right. While not in the same league, Canberra has opened its coffers a little to offer a $300,000 development grant to the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (AEEMA) for developing the local telematics industry.

As most readers would know, telematics includes wireless technologies to the automotive industries. It also has implications for the intelligent transport systems sector, including all transport modes within Australian road and rail corridors. This is an exciting project, one that offers local industry the potential to be a world leader in niche areas of telematics.

While Howard's energy policy tries to make out he is a reborn environmentalist, the truth is a little different. The power of coal industry lobbyists means very little has changed, in fact many opportunities in the renewable energy industry have been lost. In reality Howard realises being green entails short-term costs, and to him the pain is not worth the gain, in votes.

Credits: Alan Johnson and Manufacturers Monthly

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