Monday, December 3, 2012

CitySwitch Awards Night, December 3, 2012

No one ever promised moving to a green economy - an economy making minimal use of fossil fuels - would be easy, and so it has proved. Indeed, in recent years the challenge has look dauntingly tough. It’s too easy to leave it to other people - and other countries - to make the first move. It’s too easy to make excuses and even to deny there is a problem. Sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do much science at high school, so I’m not tempted to think I can explain to the scientists where they’re getting it all wrong.

Even so, I get the feeling we’re making more progress in recent days - and that we’ve been making more progress than popularly believed. Here in Australia, the breakthrough may have come with the introduction of the carbon tax on July 1 which - as many of us prophesied - wasn’t nearly as catastrophic as the public had been led to expect. The tax had been designed to be as least disruptive as possible, and so it has proved. With any luck, this anticlimax will see a turning of the tide in our resolve to get on with preparing for a green future. I read that the carbon tax is now more popular than Tony Abbott - though that’s not setting the bar very high. (46/44; -31 net approval)

In recent days we’ve seen a number of new authoritative reports - mainly from scientific authorities, but also from no more unexpected body than the World Bank - reminding us the climate change problem hasn’t been wished away. It’s still there and, if anything, getting more pressing. That’s hardly good news, but I get the feeling these reports have been getting more media attention than they would have done a year ago.

Another bit of encouraging news is that, soon after his comfortable re-election, President Obama reaffirmed his view that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming, and stated his intent to continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said: “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions,” noting that, “we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

It’s true the US Senate has declined to agree to an emissions trading scheme, but though that may be the best way to progress the move to a green economy, it’s not the only way. And the Obama Administration has made great strides in instituting stringent new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. A related approach is greenhouse gas regulations issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which would limit emissions from certain power plants. And we shouldn’t forget that California and several other states are proceeding with trading schemes.

Similarly, many people don’t realise how much progress China is making in the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and, particularly, solar. When Julia Gillard’s recent white paper on the Asian century included projections for the growth in Chinese demand for our coal, Professor Ross Garnaut expressed the view that these seemed far too high because they underestimated the extent to which China would be relying on green energy sources.

And then, of course, there’s the little publicised fact that the Chinese government is proceeding with an emissions trading scheme on a trial basis in various provinces. Knowing the Chinese way of doing things, I won’t be surprised to see this develop into a nation-wide scheme.

The final bit of good news is the way so many of our own businesses are seizing the challenge and the opportunity to become front-runners in the shift to a green economy. This is occurring in various areas of business, but - as we’ve heard - in none more successfully than in the CitySwitch program. It’s great to see building managers and tenants combining with city councils to use energy more efficiently. They say there are no free lunches in the economy, and it’s true many lunches that look free aren’t really, but there are some, and when you can combine doing the right thing by the planet - and by our grandchildren - with saving on energy costs, this surely qualifies. If doing the right thing and saving on costs also brings competitive advantages - including by making more conscientious employees keener to work for such an enlightened employer - then all I can say is: you deserve it. I’m pleased to be here tonight to honour all the participants in the CitySwitch program as well as those receiving awards.