Within the broader climate challenge, there are two significant national issues that are reaching "crisis" proportions, waste and fuel security. Both urgently require a definitive, medium-term action plan.
The tragedy is that both issues have just been mostly ignored by government, and left to drift, even though we have, as a nation, the proven technologies and processes to deal effectively with both these challenges, and are able to do so in a way that would contribute significantly to our climate imperative to reduce emissions.
The role of government is to work to remove the impediments to the development of effective private sector-driven responses, and to encourage the opportunities, by providing the essential national policy framework/strategy and regulatory structures.
The waste issue has come to a head as we can now no longer export this waste to our Asian neighbours, as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and others have recently decided to block such imports - indeed, some waste is presently being returned to us.
However, we have proven technologies and processes to both recycle this waste, as well as to turn it into electricity, gas, fuel (diesel and ethanol), bio-plastic and bio-chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and the like. The waste "feedstocks" - virtually everything from green waste, timber, household and other garbage, and sewage - are distributed widely across our country, opening up the potential for new industries right across metropolitan and regional Australia.
Alarming reports continue to emerge regarding our low emergency fuel reserves, and how it makes us particularly "vulnerable" and creates a critical national security issue. Australia is a "laggard" globally on this issue, and has been named as the least prepared developed nation to deal with a crisis.
Australia is a "laggard" globally on this issue, and has been named as the least prepared developed nation to deal with a crisis.
As we mostly don't refine fuel anymore, we rely on some 44 ships per year bringing our fuel from Singapore, a journey not without its risks. Latest figures from the Department of Energy show stockpiles at the end of October 2018 were a mere 22 days for petrol, and 17 days for diesel. It wasn't that long ago that Melbourne airport virtually ran out of jet fuel, and a recent global Defence activity in Darwin had similar issues.
Moreover, Australia has the dirtiest fuel in the OECD, making it impossible for us to meet say European/US emissions standards on our vehicles, at a time when the global aviation industry has committed to a 70 per cent reduction in its emissions by 2050, and shipping by 70 per cent. Melbourne University's Clean Air and Urban Landscape Hub reported in 2015 that 40 per cent more people die from transport related pollution in Australia than the national road toll. Why isn't this a constant "front page" story demanding government action?
Currently Australia lags well behind other nations in the production of biofuels and in enjoying its industrial, social, and environmental benefits. Last year the US consumption of biodiesel was close to 7.5 billion litres per annum, Australia is a mere 10 million litres. About 80 per cent of the canola that we export goes into producing 100 per cent biodiesel in Europe. Why don't we make it here, and especially when the limited biodiesel we do refine results in an 80 per cent reduction in emissions compared to traditional diesel?
It has been estimated that a local biofuels industry would create more than 8000 jobs, contribute some $1.1 billion to regional communities, reduce particulate pollution by 26 per cent, and reduce our reliance on imported fuel by 18 per cent. With further second and third generation technological improvements, the potential for the development of regional Australia from agricultural and other waste streams is significant indeed!
A recent market analysis and forecast report by the International Energy Agency predicted that modern bio-energy will have the biggest growth in the next five years, driving some 40 per cent of the growth in global energy consumption.
Unfortunately our governments have a "tin ear" when it comes to most of this, still focused on themselves, and on point scoring against each other, just kicking issues and challenges down the road, rather than solving problems, and thereby avoiding any serious longer-term strategic thinking and planning.
It is an imperative for both the Morrison government and the Albanese opposition to recognise the significance and urgency of the rapidly emerging waste and fuel crises, and to commit to work together, in our longer-term national interest, to ensure effective solutions.
John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.