The cynical and dishonest denial of climate change has to end: it’s time for leadership

Australia has enough renewable energy to power the country 500 times over. With South Australia a step closer to unveiling the largest lithium ion battery storage facility in the world, it is clear just how fast we can make the transition to large-scale renewables when the right policy settings are in place and investors have certainty.

More than a decade ago, as the head of BP Australasia I pushed for action on climate change.

At the time many Australian business leaders, global companies, governments and the world’s major scientific institutions accepted the science of climate change. As a sector, we wanted certainty. Ten years later and business is still calling for certainty. That is, long-term policies that allow businesses to commit to do the heavy lifting in response to an identified, significant and growing business risk – climate change.

A carrot-and-stick approach will be required to nurture the transition to a clean energy future and move potential investments from discretionary to mandatory categories. Often there is no competitive advantage in being a first mover.

Businesses will not drive investment without the right policies. Our preference a decade ago was for a price on carbon established by an emissions trading scheme as a core part of policy settings.

The last decade’s climate policy debate has been characterised by U-turns, a lack of bipartisanship, short-term populism, denial and misinformation, not to mention the scoring of political points rather than developing a long-term framework for what is a global and intergenerational issue.

The transition to a low carbon future will now be more expensive and more disruptive than it ever needed to be. An absence of climate and energy policy has left Australia lagging dangerously behind, missing out on significant investment and facing major disruptions in local electricity markets.

Governments have also, for the most part, elected to overlook the social disruptions that our inevitable energy transition will cause.

The recent closure of the Hazelwood coal plant in Victoria was foreseen many years ago. Regrettably, a refusal to acknowledge the need for future planning until it was too late left the La Trobe Valley community to live with the consequences.

Likewise in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, a huge amount of political energy is being wasted talking up the benefits of the nation’s biggest planned coal mine, which will be bad for local communities and puts the Great Barrier Reef at risk.

Big business is often accused of making expedient short-term decisions with little regard to the long-term viability and survival of the business. Rather than long-term planning to address the very real issues being faced by the people in Queensland, we are seeing at best ill-informed and at worst cynical and dishonest denial of the reality.

The effects of climate change are happening now. This looks like sea-level rise and coastal flooding. It looks like record-breaking temperatures and worsening extreme weather events. There is widespread business and public support for action as well as widespread acknowledgment that inaction will leave us increasingly exposed to social and economic disruption.

Strong leadership is vital. Whether we get carrots and sticks or both, industry needs a political consensus that policy arising from the Finkel Review process will stand the test of time and changes of government.

Procrastination is not a good option. It’s time to take responsibility for our past decade of avoidant politicking. Each day that goes by without policy settings that invite investment in large-scale renewables only makes the inevitable transition harder.

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