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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Keynote presentation 5th Australasian Cleantech Forum

Speech
Park Hyatt, Melbourne
1 April 2009

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I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

It is a pleasure to open this conference and in doing so recognise the important work of local and international innovators, investors, entrepreneurs and thinkers in the cleantech sector.

And I want to particularly recognise the work of CleanTechnology Australasia in brining this forum together.

The economic reality

It's hard to imagine meeting at a more important time.

There is no doubting the severity of the global recession, and its impacts will increasingly bear down on all economies, including our own.

Yet it's important to remember today the strengths we have going for us here in Australia - strengths that are less evident elsewhere in the world.

Our banking system is stable - amongst the most stable of all advanced economies - at a time when international banks have been in serious strife.

And both the Government and the Reserve Bank have taken swift and decisive action to support jobs and growth in our economy.

Through recent economic events here and overseas, we have been reminded of the importance of a number of fundamental economic reform objectives:

  1. Building a more productive economy, by investing in critical economic infrastructure;
  2. Designing a better tax regime to reward effort and enterprise and attract investment in a tax competitive world;
  3. Investing in our people to create skills and spark further innovation;
  4. Doing our best to ensure more Australians share in our national prosperity; and critically
  5. Building the low-pollution economy of the future, on a trajectory that gives Australia and our region a head start on the rest of the world.

I am confident that all of us here today share the vision of this country Australia and our region that is more innovative, competitive and sustainable and open to talent.

We all understand the significant opportunities that exist as we set a path towards a low-pollution future, including opportunities to deliver a growing employment base into the future.

The focus of this forum is a focus shared by the Australian Government how do we best harness the opportunities and maximise the benefits of investment and innovation as we undertake the transformation to a low-pollution economy?

The environmental reality

We should not doubt the urgency or the magnitude of the environmental challenge we face.

Australians inhabit an already hot, dry and weathered continent, prone to climatic extremes. We have seen this all too recently in the Victorian bushfires and flooding in Queensland.

Australia is, among developed nations, acutely vulnerable to climate change impacts. From our farmlands to our urban centres, from our great river systems to the Great Barrier Reef, all are at risk from the impacts of a changing climate, including from the momentum already in the climate system.

The warnings from the worlds scientists have not abated, and in fact the data brought forward since the 2007 report of the IPCC is cause for even greater concern, as we saw from the Copenhagen Science Conference last month.

Recent reporting on the likely impacts of climate change on our health system highlights again the critical period we are in.

Along with nations around the world, we face a clear choice about whether we put in place the long-overdue reforms that will transform our economy for a low-pollution future whether we begin reducing Australias carbon pollution from next year or let it continue to rise.

The pathway to a low-pollution economy

As Samuel Johnson famously said, "the future is purchased by the present".

This observation rings equally true of the actions we take in responding to the global recession, as it does of our response to the current and future challenge of climate change.

It is critical, at this time in our economic history, that we take actions that both support jobs now and help build the low-pollution industries of the future; that we encourage investments, both public and private, that are well targeted and relevant for emerging domestic and international markets.

The Australian Government is well underway in taking these actions and responding to these challenges.

Through the $42 billion Nation Building-Economic Stimulus Plan, we are acting to cushion the nation from the worst effects of the global economic recession. Through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, we are acting to reform Australias economy for a low-pollution future, for the first time recognising the real costs of using fossil fuels, and by implication, the very real benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We are also bringing forward measures that complement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; addressing market failures that are likely to persist, at least through the early years of the scheme, and helping to build capacity in low-pollution Australian industries.

This includes the investment of $3.9 billion through the Energy Efficient Homes Package as part of the Nation Building-Economic Stimulus Plan, delivering the largest-ever rollout of energy efficiency to Australias suburbs.

We are already seeing evidence of low-pollution jobs being supported through the early phase of the Energy Efficient Homes Package, and this support will only increase as we step up the deployment of insulation and solar hot water to close to three million Australian homes.

The Energy Efficient Homes Package is an opportunity to shift the way we go about things, making energy efficiency and environmental sustainability guiding principles part of the DNA of our cities, suburbs and regions.

These guiding principles run through other elements of the Nation Building- Economic Stimulus Plan.

For example, $12.4 billion has been allocated for primary schools to provide funding for new iconic facilities such as libraries and multipurpose halls, or to upgrade existing facilities, with a further $1 billion for new Science and Language Centres in secondary schools.

These two programs are conditional on environmentally sustainable principles being incorporated in new constructions and refurbishments. As well, the National School Pride program, which provides almost $1.3 billion for minor Page 4 of 8 capital works and maintenance projects, allows for insulation and green upgrades such as water tanks to be supported.

We face tough challenges, but by the Governments actions we will emerge from the global economic recession more resilient, more energy efficient and better placed to maximise the opportunities of a low-pollution future.

Harnessing the Energy Efficiency

Opportunity It is sometimes said that the cleanest and cheapest power plant is the one thats never built.

The Australian Government has identified energy efficiency as the second plank in our response to tackling climate change, alongside the CPRS.

I have spoken on many occasions about the abundant evidence which shows energy efficiency to be the fastest and most cost-effective way of reducing Australias carbon pollution.

For example, earlier this year, a report on the impacts of appliance energy rating labels and standards in Australia projected that for every tonne of carbon pollution avoided through the program, the benefit to energy users would be $561.

With total avoided greenhouse gas emissions from the program projected at between 218 and 250 megatonnes over the period 2000 to 2020, that is a significant saving.

Evidence like this is clear - crystal clear - and so the Government is advancing a National Strategy for Energy Efficiency, to provide the Commonwealth leadership, and the framework for co-ordinated action, that has been so lacking for the last 12 years.

Through the Council of Australian Governments, we will seek agreement to a detailed and targeted work-plan, harnessing and maximising the benefits of energy efficiency across the economy.

This includes action to transform the energy efficiency of our built environment, for example through increased energy efficiency requirements for new homes and commercial buildings.

This includes action to overcome split incentives, like those between tenants and landlords, and we are already doing this, for example through rebates to install insulation in rental homes.

We will also focus on ensuring the market has the right information to maximise investments in energy efficiency, for example, through a National 1 Prevention is Better than Cure: Avoiding Carbon Emissions through Energy Efficiency Projected Impacts of the Equipment Energy Efficiency Program to 2020, George Wilkenfeld and Associates, January 2009. Mandatory Disclosure Scheme for commercial buildings and expanded labelling for energy efficient appliances, like televisions.

All of these actions require Commonwealth leadership, and as I have noted, that is long overdue.

But critically, the transformation to a low-pollution future also requires a nation-wide and economy wide response a response across the Australian community, from households to business leaders and investors, including those of you in this room.

Accelerating the transformation

If we are to see an investment in energy efficiency, renewable and clean technologies that delivers large scale environmental benefits, then of course these investments must be attractive, and market demand must be sustained.

As I have already said, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will for the first time put a price in the system, creating a driver for industry and business to take up technologies that reduce energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government is also accelerating a diverse portfolio of commercial scale projects which complement the CPRS through the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Initiative and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.

Just last week, we saw a welcome indication from President Obama to Prime Minister Rudd that the United States will join the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Initiative.

We are also committing $2.15 billion through the Climate Change Action Fund to assist in the transition for businesses and community sector organisations by providing the capital injection for the purchase of cleaner technologies.

We are expanding Australias renewable energy target to ensure that 20 per cent of Australias energy supply will come from renewable sources by 2020.

This is a significant measure, with industry estimating it will see investments of some $20 billion in renewable energy.

The Government is further accelerating the renewable revolution through the Renewable Energy Fund.

In December last year, the Prime Minister announced that the full amount of the half-billion dollar fund would be brought forward for investment inside 18 months.

Within this fund, the $435 million Renewable Energy Demonstration Program will provide grants of around $50-$100 million towards demonstration projects of renewable energy technologies for power generation.

As clean technology investors, many of you here would understand the importance of ironing out the risks associated with scaling up and integrating into the power grid.

I am pleased to say that to date, Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has received more than 150 expressions of interest, with applications closing on the 15 April.

From research to commercialisation

While the carbon price will fundamentally transform the playing field for energy efficient and renewable energy technologies over the long term, we also understand the need to drive innovation right now.

Through the $150 million Energy Innovation Fund, the Australian Government will support research and development on clean energy technologies.

$100 million of this fund has been allocated to the newly established Australian Solar Institute which will support research on solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies, including the world class research groups at the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales and the CSIRO.

Solar energy technologies developed by these groups include Sliver photovoltaic cells, buried contact photovoltaic cells, hybrid photovoltaic thermal concentrators and crystalline silicon on glass solar photovoltaic technology.

A further $50 million from the Energy Innovation Fund has been allocated to the Clean Energy Program which will be available to help fund pilot projects using renewable energy technologies.

Through the $75 million Climate Ready program, matched dollar for dollar grants of up to $5 million are available to small and medium sized Australian companies for research and development, proof-of-concept and early-stage commercialisation activities to develop solutions to climate change challenges.

32 companies were offered a total of $28m in the first round of funding which closed in September last year. The next round is due to close on June 25.

Projects offered funding include an energy efficient filtration technology, a lightweight semi-trailer tanker, a wave energy conversion device, a low-cost hydrogen storage system, a fuel-efficient cane harvesting system and a photovoltaic cell manufacturing process.

At the bigger end of town, and something very important to the economy of Victoria, the $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund will provide assistance to Australian companies to design, develop and manufacture low-emission, fuel-efficient cars and components in Australia.

The Fund will help the Australian automotive industry to deliver the improved environmental performance required by the Automotive Transformation Scheme which also forms part of A New Car Plan for a Green Future.

And in time, these products, new technologies and innovations may form part of our clean energy exports.

The regional perspective

We recognise that because climate change is a global challenge, it presents opportunities that supersede national borders.

In fact, today's forum demonstrates the interconnectedness of a growing investment community that is speaking the same language.

The Australian Government understands the importance of fostering these connections, including the opportunity to share our expertise in the region.

We have invested $20 million in the Clean Energy Innovation Centre to provide a range of business improvement services to small and medium sized clean energy companies, and also to promote Australia as the Clean Energy Hub of the Asia Pacific region.

I am please to say that my colleague, Minister Kim Carr, is launching the Centre in Newcastle today.

We are also developing the world's leading regulatory framework for and geological storage of greenhouse gasses. Coupled with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, this leadership will confirm Australia as a highly attractive market for establishing carbon trading businesses to service the region.

On a company to company level, Austrade, our export and investment promotion agency, has significantly boosted its resources to support the clean energy sector, creating a two-way street between Australian and key markets like China, India, Europe and the USA.

And earlier this year our Trade Minister, Simon Crean, led the first joint Australian/New Zealand Clean Energy Mission to the USA and Chile, following on from a successful Clean Energy Mission to China last August.

Conclusion

At this time in our history, it is no exaggeration to say we face the choice between a tipping point and a turning point, and this choice presents itself not only in the policy decisions of governments, but in the investment decisions of the business community.

Australia is a country ripe for investment in clean technologies, with the relevant expertise, growing market demand and strong Government support and investment.

We see our future as a low-pollution one and the cleantech sector has a central role to play in realising this vision.

We are committed to building this low-pollution future through programs that support wise, well targeted investment in meaningful innovation.

We want to make sure our companies and our trading partners can take advantage of market opportunities, realise their investments in clean technologies and make effective contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities and government support here in Australia and I wish you every success with your investments and innovations.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia