Tanya Plibersek at Conexus Financial Political Series on Thursday (credit: Jack Smith).

Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, has expressed her confidence about Australia switching out the export of coal and gas to green energy as its economic foundation in the coming years.

Plibersek spoke at at lunch in Sydney on Thursday, as part of the Conexus Financial Political Series, in partnership with BT, hours after the release of the government’s revamped “Capacity Investment Scheme”.

To reach the 82 per cent electricity generation with renewable energy goal by 2030, the new scheme will underwrite 32 gigawatts of new electricity, consisting of nine gigawatts of storage and 23 gigawatts of variable renewable energy generation.  

Asset owners including industry super fund HESTA have welcomed the move. The fund’s CEO, Debby Blakey, said the superannuation sector is an “incredible national advantage” to help Australia transition to a low-carbon future. 

Plibersek said she is “grateful” that the plan is “clearly very well received”. However, she said she was aware Australia is in competition for capital with other countries when it comes to renewable energy, citing legislations such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US as a “magnet for investments”.  

“Minister [for Climate Change and Energy, Chris] Bowen has changed the settings to really scale up the opportunities for those large-scale investments that we need to transform our energy system, to transform our economy,” she told the crowd. 

“People talk about Australia being a renewable energy superpower, we actually do see a time when we will be exporting green energy in the same way that our economy has its foundations in exporting coal and gas. We do think that we can ride the wave that we’re seeing happening globally.” 

‘Goodwill’ is not enough

Plibersek said biodiversity loss was as big an environmental challenge as climate change, urging the Greens and Nationals to get behind her so-called “nature repair market”. 

Photo: Jack Smith

She said conservation and restoration efforts needed an economic ecosystem so it wasn’t just relying on the financial sector’s “goodwill” and friendly regulations. 

“If we keep going the way we’re going in Australia, nature is stuffed,” Plibersek said. “If we keep going the way we’re going, koalas are going to be extinct in New South Wales in your lifetime. I use that example because everybody loves koalas, but it’s not particular to that [species].” 

The proposal, which is currently before Parliament, aims to make business’ environmental impact more accountable and verifiable. The demand is envisioned to come from several potential sources, including carbon market participants seeking other nature-beneficial projects, as well as philanthropic and ESG-driven investments.   

“If you’re going to spend money anyway, make sure that money is doing what it’s supposed to do, that’s really the aim of having a nature repair market,” Plibersek said. “The long run objective is not for people to make a fortune out of it, the long run objective is for an economic shift, that sees the benefit in investing in nature.” 

“At the moment, effectively all of the settings say it’s better and cheaper to destroy nature. We’re relying on your goodwill and the rules to prevent nature destruction, which we know aren’t really working.” 

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