Working towards a clean, secure energy future in the Indo-Pacific region
(See translation in Arabic section)
Excerpt of Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen’s speech to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC on September 23, 2022.
This function is my last in this trip to the United States and rounds out a productive week which began with the UN General Assembly and included a productive Clean Energy Ministerial in Pittsburgh. There has been a sense of “productive urgency” in the air this week. And there needs to be.
It’s that urgency that I want to focus on. The urgent need to reduce emissions this decade and the urgent need to secure our supply chains as we do so.
We have less than a decade to ensure we keep the world to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees of warming.
When I think about the possible impediments to achieving Australia’s ambitions to reduce emissions by 43% and move our electricity grid to 82% renewables by 2030, two things spring to mind: labour shortages and supply chain constraints. Co-operation between like-minded countries on supply chains will be key to achieving our respective ambitions.
It took us decades to get here but the task can be broken down to months. 2030 is 87 months away. The United States has 87 months to reduce its emissions by 50% on 2005 levels. Australia has 87 months to move its electricity system to 82% renewables and meet its economy-wide targets. The world has 87 months to take the actions that can hold our temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.
We need to unleash the billions of dollars of public and private investment necessary to achieve this task in this timeline.
Environmental success must mean economic success as well. The climate policies of the Albanese Government have been modelled to create 604,000 jobs in Australia over the next decade.
As big as the economic dividend is, we should also be honest about the size of the task and the possible impediments - allowing us to focus on efforts to deal with those impediments - which brings me to energy security and supply chains.
Current challenges highlight the flaws in energy security reliant on concentrated fossil fuel supply chains. By contrast, renewable energy has in-built security advantages.
The one supply chain that no geopolitical crisis can disrupt is the supply of sunlight to our land and the supply of wind to our country's coasts and hills as long as we have the infrastructure to capture, convert and store it.
That’s why we will have to complement the global phase-down of fossil fuels with investment in clean energy technologies and resilient and diverse supply chains.
This is the best way to protect our economies from the shocks of the next crisis.
We face a collective endeavour of almost unprecedented scale. We need to mine, move and manufacture immense volumes of material, energy and equipment. We need to train and mobilise hundreds of thousands of skilled blue- and white-collar workers to fill new quality jobs.
We’re under no illusions that meeting our 43% target in the next 87 months requires dogged efforts and calls for an industrialising drive that takes in value adding capabilities.
Right now, the stark reality is that we have an urgent need for action, a significant amount of investment, global competition for finite manufacturing components – coupled with a clear vulnerability in the supply chain. The simple truth is that no one country can or should produce enough clean energy inputs to meet the global need.
Even if we were comfortable with the concentration in the supply chain, the stark fact is current production won’t be enough to meet future demands on the path to net zero.
To achieve net zero, we all need to be producing the components to get us there. More reliable supply chains and more supply chains in total.
I think there are two important principles underpinning the need for Australia, the United States and other like-minded countries to be focused on renewable energy supply chains.
Firstly, reliability. It is in America’s interests for Australia to be developing renewable manufacturing capacity – and vice versa – because we represent a reliable and secure supply chain for each other.
Our minerals will be essential – but we must be more than a quarry. We need to add value, make things, and expand our place in global value chains.
Secondly, these must be ethical supply chains.
Moving to a renewable economy is a moral imperative as well as an economic opportunity, but we must ensure that transition itself is conducted in as ethical a way as possible.
Transparency is critical – it is much easier to verify, for example, that there is no child labour or unethical labour practices used in the value add of Australian lithium or cobalt than it would be other potential sources.
The rapid scale-up of production required should not be used to mask unethical labour practices – this is a shared responsibility as well.
While the task is enormous, so are the opportunities.
Addressing climate change is not only an opportunity for more jobs, but it also represents an obligation to ensure those jobs pay decent wages, have good conditions, and deliver better lives for ordinary workers.
The best way to counter the naysayers who still call for delay and denial is to demonstrate that working people stand to benefit from action. That is why our government takes the view that the economy needs to work for people, not the other way around, and that is true for the transformation of our economies to address climate change just as much as it is for any other area.
Allow me to finish with some observations on the Indo-Pacific. As CSIS has pointed out, there’s a growing need for technological expertise in Indo-Pacific countries to support the transition. And it makes good economic and climate sense to support them.
The fastest growing region in the world, 60 per cent of global energy supply, and more than half of the world’s energy consumption and emissions.
Failure to engage with the Indo-Pacific would set a failure to achieve global net zero.
These are some of the countries most impacted by climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters. But they are also some of the countries who have shown the most leadership in fighting for more global action on climate change – because they are seeing the real-world impacts on their communities and livelihoods.
Australia is already working closely with our Pacific family to build their technological capability and support their energy transformation.
We are also collaborating with regional partners, like Japan, Korea and Singapore, to catalyse and scale up new clean energy trade in renewable energy.
And in this discussion about the path forward on energy security – I reiterate once again, that the Indo-Pacific needs to be at the heart of any global conversations.
Australia will increase its support for our Pacific partners, including through a new Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership, to back climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.
There’s scope for Australia’s alliance with the US to bolster these efforts.
Australia sees not only an opportunity but a responsibility, as a trusted partner, to step up and build new and resilient global clean energy supply chains.
The climate change emergency is an economic opportunity waiting to be seized.