Winds of change blowing at Hunter’s door

WHILE leaders of the industrialised world willspend the week congratulating themselves on their achievements in Paris, there should be no doubt that the biggest test for Australia lies ahead.
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The Eiffel Tower in Paris during the climate summit.

That test will be even tougherin the Hunter Valley where the coal industry still plays a vitaleconomic role.

Malcolm Turnbull’s decisionto overturn the Tony Abbott ban on government investment in wind power at the weekend is just the start of what will need to be a monumental shift in attitude and action on climate change.

Australia’s pollution reduction targets remain massively at odds with most of the world, more in line with those of China and described as “woefully inadequate” by some quarters. They will now need far more than political rhetoric from a government still arguing over the investment of taxpayer dollars in wind farms.

The Paris Agreement will come into force in 2020, and while Australia will likely have achieved its previously-settargets by then, it must be recognised that the bar was set significantly lower than what the new agreement will require.

As Climate Institute chief John O’Connor said on Sunday, Australia needs to adopt far more aggressive emissions policies. Maintaining the status quo will leave Australia as the highest per capita polluter in the first world by 2030 and will have only Saudi Arabia to compete with on the bottom rung.

Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop described the weekend agreement as “a framework for all nations”, saying“now we can return home to implement the new global agreement”.

That road will be long and tough, but if Australia’slong-term transition to an emissions-neutral planet is going to be ramped upanywhere, it may as well be ramped up right here. If the Hunter has the potential to lose the most, it should also be the one with the most to gain from the investment opportunities and the benefits that will come, eventually, from a switch to producing low-emission clean energy.

Regardless of one’s views on climate change andemissions reduction,the Paris climate deal will spur a global shift towards renewables, leaving the Hunter region with a clear choice. It can be left behind by the rest of the world or it can seize the employment and investment opportunities that will arise in the renewables sector.

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