Benefitting from a green future (unless you're in Australia)

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(Image courtesy John Graham / @JohnGrahamArt)

Green industries are booming around the world and was one of the few sectors in Europe to flourish since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. But in Australia, our future slice of the low carbon economy has been dealt another blow by the Abbott government's intransigence over the RET, writes Dr Anthony Horton.

ACCORDING TO the European Environment State and Outlook report 2015 (SOER) published by the European Environment Agency, green industries in Europe grew by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2011. This growth was against the backdrop of a severe bust, which hit every other sector of the economy with the exception of the aforementioned green industries.

The report stated that environmental policies are creating numerous economic opportunities and contributing to the Europe 2020 strategy, the aim of which was to transform the European Union (EU) into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020.

The environment industry sector which provides goods and services which reduce degradation and maintain natural resources grew by more than 50 per cent between 2000 and 2011, and was one of the few sectors to flourish since the economic crisis of 2008. The report also acknowledged that Europe faces a number of significant challenges in terms of the degradation of natural capital due to agriculture, fishing, transport, industrial development, tourism and urban sprawl.

Since the 1970s, a wide range of environmental legislation has been implemented in the EU, which represents the most comprehensive modern suite of standards anywhere in the world. More than 500 directives, regulations and decisions comprise the EU environmental law. During this time, the emissions of a number of pollutants to air, water and soil have been dramatically reduced, due in no small part to the comprehensive legislation in place across the EU.

This has brought with it direct and indirect environmental, economic and societal benefits. EU policies have also stimulated innovation and investments in environmental goods and services, which have generated jobs and export opportunities. EU air policies and legislation have delivered human health and environmental benefits, and have also offered a range of economic opportunities for the clean technology sector. Estimates as part of the European Commission’s proposal for a Clean Air Policy Package show that large Engineering companies in the EU earn approximately 40 per cent of their revenues from their environment portfolios — a percentage that is almost certain to increase.

The previous SOER in 2010 highlighted the need for a more integrated approach to addressing persistent systemic environmental challenges, one of which was the transition towards to a green economy in order to secure the long term sustainability of the EU. The analysis in the 2010 SOER suggested that neither environmental policies nor economic and technology driven efficiency gains alone would be sufficient to achieve the 2050 vision which was for a low carbon society, a green circular economy and resilient ecosystems as a basis for citizens’ well being.


Similar to the 2010 SOER, the 2015 SOER highlighted major challenges in terms of unsustainable production and consumption and their long-term impacts (often complex and cumulative) on ecosystem and human health. Concerns also remained regarding the purchase-use-dispose nature of the economy, the significant dependence on natural resources, an ecological footprint that is clearly unsustainable, environmental impacts on poorer countries and the unequal distribution of the benefits of globalisation. The 2015 report also showed that transforming transport, energy, housing and food systems is central to long term fixes. Decarbonising these systems and making them more efficient and compatible with ecosystem resilience were also keys to making them more sustainable.

Prior to December 2015, the European Commission will present a new circular economy package which will investigate recycling goals, the smarter use of raw materials, intelligent product design and  product reuse and repair. The Commission has also found evidence that nature protection areas contribute approximately EU$200 billion to EU GDP under the EU Natura 2000 projects.

In addition, Europeans enjoyed cleaner air and water and recycled more than they did five years ago.

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Greenpeace activists holding rainbow umbrellas call for 100% renewable energy on a Copenhagen beach last year. (Photo: Lars Bertelsen / Greenpeace)

Meanwhile in Australia, the Clean Energy sector has been dealt another blow following news that reviews will remain as part of the deal struck between the Abbott Government and the Labor Opposition over the Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 33000 Gigawatt hours of clean energy by 2020.

The Abbott Government initially agreed to scrap two yearly reviews and then changed their position at the eleventh hour. In a joint statement last month, the Environment and Industry Ministers announced that they would remove the two yearly review requirement in the RET in order to provide the industry some certainty and facilitate its move forward. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane stated that Cabinet insisted the reviews stay, and Labor reportedly did not oppose it in talks on Friday May 8, 2015, although Labor environment spokesperson Mark Butler stated they are unlikely to support continued reviews.

The next review is scheduled for next year and there were two last year, one of which was the Warburton Review that recommended a significant reduction of the target.

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It is little wonder that the Renewable/Clean Energy sector is struggling to gain traction in Australia. In an earlier blog entitled ‘Who would invest in the Australian large scale renewable energy sector?’, I discussed a number of associated issues so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say, both the Government and Labor have an interesting way of showing their support for renewables in Australia. In particular, I can’t understand how they can’t seem to grasp the level of certainty investors and proponents require and length of time it can take to get investors on board before projects can even start.

You can follow Anthony on Twitter as The Climate Change Guy @DrAnthonyHorton and his blog The Climate Change Guy.

This original cartoon by John Graham can be ordered from the IA store.


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