Making a submission to the Australian Government might not seem like something worthy of a blog post –  submissions are often full of technical details and arguements. But this is one submission that got me really excited, it’s worth writing a blog about. It’s an example of the bold vision and thinking we need to get us on track to 350ppm.

Recently the Australian Government called for submissions from the Australian community on how Australia can engage with Asia during the ‘Asian Century’. One of our organisers in Australia, Samantha Mella saw this as a chance to put down a bold vision for how Australia could get 350ppm on the table – not just for Australia but for the whole region. Here are some snapshots from her submission (you can download the full pdf of the submission here):

This submission suggests that a key axis of engagement between Australia and Asia must be managing climate change. The great transformative opportunity of this century is the way we export energy. Australia is a net exporter of energy to Asia in the form of coal and gas, and now uranium. If we aspire to a peaceful and prosperous endpoint to the Asian century, this must change. Australia must export renewable energy, and Australia’s key resource is massive deserts with some of the highest solar isolation rates in the world (ABARE 2010).


A decade into the Asian Century, the cost of heatwaves, bushfires, floods, droughts and storms in Asia and Australia is estimated to be $US259 billion (Source: E M-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database. Se e Appendix). Being a climate-vulnerable nation, Australia’s share of these costs was $US18 billion. Australian heatwaves were not included in the EM-DAT analysis. For example, the 2009 heatwave in south east Australia that left 374 Victorians dead and hospitals overflowing was estimated to have cost Victoria $AU100 million (Houston and Rielly 2009, Depart
ment of Human Services 2009). It is therefore likely that Australia’s climate-induced costs are somewhat higher.
In Asia, some of the countries hit hardest between 2000-2011 included:
  • China $US124 billion (floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms)
  • India $US21 billion (floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms)
  • Pakistan $US12 billion (drought, flood, storms, landslides) 
  • Thailand $US41.4 billion (drought, flood, storms) 
  • Korea Dem $US6.3 billion (floods and storms)
  • Korea Rep $US10.6 billion (floods and storms)
(A  detailed table is available in the Appendix.)
So returning to the initial question, in light of Australia and Asia facing costs for extreme weather events around $US259 billion within the first decade of the Asian Century, is solar really too expensive to consider? If Australia and Asia invested the same amount into clean energy infrastructure, what could be the benefits for the whole region for the rest of the century?
The submission closes with:
It is recognised that Australia and the coal industry are in a difficult position. There is a mass of coal lying underground and the Asian market is paying premium prices. Yet the more coal that is bought and sold, the more vulnerable we become. Asia’s core demand is energy, not coal. Asian nations are well aware of the high risks and cost of climate change, and would like wealthy countries like Australia with carbon-intensive economies to make a greater contribution towards reducing emissions – downstream emissions as well. In transforming the way we export energy to Asia, the potential to make a huge difference to the endpoint of the Asian Century is within our grasp.
The opportunity for ‘transformation’ must include the coal industry. IBM is an example of a business that has made such a transformation. The calculators and typewriters that were IBM’s core business last century bear little resemblance to the full information systems outsourcing giant that exists today. IBM is still in business, making record profits. Australia must dismantle its multi-billion dollar fossil fuel subsidies and offer attractive incentives for coal companies to truly transition their business models to low or zero carbon.
By 2030, Australia can be delivering clean energy to Asia via HVDC undersea cables. Yes, it will be very expensive to set up – a rough estimate is $A U300 billion. Considering the costs of climate change will probably amount to trillions of dollars for Asia and Australia within decades, it is a sound investment. Yes, it is a grand, bold, ambitious vision – exactly the kind of vision the International Energy Agency says we need (IEA 2011).
Download the full submission here.