TED O’BRIEN – SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FAIRFAX
9 December 2023
It truly is with hope and optimism, and also with a very keen eye to the future, that I’m delighted to be here in Dubai attending this COP28. And I want to thank the World Nuclear Association for the kind invitation to address COP, and also Coalition for Conservation for kindly hosting this event.
When it comes to COP, you have delegates from around about 200 different countries. And so, it wouldn’t be hard to find the differences between us. But what unites us, is the fact that we all share the same planet. And all of us has a vested interest in protecting it.
What’s more, we we all share humanity. And it’s it’s natural, it’s inherent as human beings, no matter your your culture, your ethnicity, your history, your political persuasion, to have a desire to want the very best for those who you love most. And so, for me, and also for my wife, Sophia. That’s these three kids. That’s Alexandra, who’s 11. It’s Henry, who’s five and little Edwina who is barely two months old.
Now, much of the debate on climate change and energy anchors to the goal of net zero by 2050. And when I think of that goal, the first thing that comes to mind for me, actually isn’t about emissions reduction per se.
It’s about my own children and their peers. And it’s asking the question, what sort of world do I want them to live in come 2050? And as an Australian, I ask, what sort of Australia do I want my children to live in by 2050 mid-century.
Now, I want them to live in a world that’s peaceful, that’s prosperous, and a world that’s sustainable. And I want them to live in an Australia in 2050. That is rich, strong, and fiercely independent. I want them to have a future of ample freedom of opportunity, and a way of life that is safe that is healthy, and that is happy. Now all of this is probably very nice.
And you may say, well, ‘what’s that got to do with climate change and energy?’ And my answer is absolutely everything, everything. Because whether this hope filled vision is realised or not depends in large part on the pathway we choose to pursue.
As we try to go towards net zero by 2050. You see, right now, we are amidst a fork in the road, we choose the right path. And our hopes for the future can be realised, but we choose the wrong path. And the consequences could be dire. Sadly, right now, I believe Australia is venturing down the wrong path as evidenced by our failure to tackle the climate and energy trilemma of affordability, security, and sustainability.
On affordability, power prices are skyrocketing, and Australians are now paying some of the highest prices in the world. On security. Reliability is under grave threat as 80% of Australia’s baseload power will be exiting the grid by 2035. Interventions in our gas market is eroding confidence and supply and investment in renewables have stalled.
On sustainability, Australia’s emissions are no longer coming down sadly, but starting to go up only slightly, but still, they’re moving in the wrong direction. Now, these outcomes are a direct consequence of Australia having taken the wrong turn in that fork in the road and following that wrong path. But here’s what fills me with hope.
And with optimism, an alternative path does exist. And it’s a path that relies on an ‘All-of-the-Above’ approach, a path that humbly recognises that getting to net zero is really hard, and we can’t afford to take any option off the table. This isn’t to imply by the way that every technology wins a prize, but rather we must provide for optionality if we’re to get this right.
An all eggs in the basket ‘renewables only’ approach that the current government is now taking is too narrow. And if you look at the economics and the engineering, it will simply fail. Now, Australia’s track record on renewables is something to be enormously proud of.
Renewables will play a really important role in Australia’s future energy mix. But the thing is, they can’t do it on their own. We need more storage and a technology agnostic approach to getting it. We shouldn’t be tearing down our baseload power stations prematurely. We need more gas and we should embrace technologies that will abate such fuels, including carbon capture and storage, and Australia should consider establishing a civil nuclear programme and introduce zero emissions, nuclear energy.
33 economies right now, use nuclear energy as of today and up to another 50 are considering introducing nuclear for the first time or looking to do so. Meanwhile, in Australia, we have a ban. A civil nuclear programme is not allowed bizarrely, as a free market liberal economy. We have a moratorium in place that deems it illegal.
Nevertheless, Australia already is a nuclear nation. We know that nuclear saves lives because we’ve been operating a nuclear reactor for well over 60 years, which provides medical isotopes, helping diagnose and treat cancers and other debilitating conditions. We know that nuclear has the capacity to save lives, but also to protect lives evidenced by our adoption of nuclear propelled submarines in partnership with the United States, the United Kingdom under the AUKUS agreement.
And we know that nuclear can also underpin livelihoods we’re the third largest supplier of uranium in the world. So, we see it ourselves the jobs that it creates for our own people, but Australia’s uranium, helps power nuclear plants the world over. And we know that the benefit it provides to the residents and workers, businesses and communities in those countries underpin their livelihoods.
We also appreciate that nuclear energy helps other nations tackle that climate and energy trilemma on affordability, nuclear energy keeps power prices low by reducing total system costs.
Now this has been proven by our allies and partners around the world time and time over and analyses by international organisations. And a recent one also done in Australia says it’s going to be the exact same thing in the context of Australia. On security, nuclear energy provides baseload power. But as we know, the especially the new designs, and the next designs have the capacity to ramp up and ramp down to work together with renewables.
And on sustainability, nuclear energy is not only zero-emissions, but it has a fuel density which is second to none, giving it a very small geographical footprint, which is far kinder to the local environment than other comparable energy solutions.
And while I’m on the topic of energy security, energy, the fuel density I should say, this explains why waste from nuclear plants is so minuscule. Nuclear energy is also one of the safest forms of energy generation in the world. And nuclear energy is one of the fastest ways to decarbonize an electricity grid with five of the top 10 fastest decarbonisations in history due to its use.
And on that point, I want to pay tribute to the UAE given it has brought a 1.4 gigawatt nuclear reactor online in each of the last four years on time and on budget. Nuclear is not a silver bullet solution. But if we are to reach net zero, it has to be part of our future energy mix.
No nuclear, no net-zero. I stand with the US climate change envoy John Kerry who said here at COP only a few days ago, “you can’t get to net zero in 2050 without some nuclear”, and also French President Macron, who in relation to Australia’s moratorium said, “I hope you will manage to lift the ban”.
Cop 28 will be known as the nuclear COP. And I pay tribute to those nations, including some of our closest allies and friends, who came together here only a few days ago and pledged their support to zero-emissions nuclear energy while calling for a tripling of nuclear energy capacity by 2050.
And today, I’m happy to announce that a re-elected Coalition government will at its first COP, after being returned to office sign the nuclear pledge and return Australia to where it belongs, standing alongside its friends and allies.
You see, when you think about friends and allies, we need them. And they need us. If we were to establish our own civil nuclear programme, we need the demonstrable expertise and experience that our friends offer. And likewise, they need our help too.
For all the talk about Australia one day becoming a clean energy superpower. The truth is, we already are. Australia has the world’s largest reserves of uranium. And we should use it. The nuclear pledge coming out of this cop to triple the world’s nuclear capacity should come as a wake-up call for Australia that we have a role to play in helping our allies and partners shore up their own energy security as they decarbonize while keeping their lights on and their prices down.
Energy security is national security.
Energy security is important to every single nation, especially those which are geographically constrained for choice. And this represents not just an enormous commercial opportunity for Australia, but also a moral obligation that we step up and deliver for the planet.
Even if our current government remains blind to the need for zero emissions, nuclear energy, they can’t deny that the vast majority of the rest of the world sees things differently.
And they need what we have – uranium. It’s time we took back energy security for the West. And we should do so ambitiously. For we have the capacity as a nation to do more than just supply uranium, but to develop capabilities in other areas of the nuclear fuel cycle.
So, we become far more indispensable as part of the global nuclear energy supply chain. Much is often said about the moratorium against nuclear energy in Australia. But it is a lesser-known fact that the exploration and mining of uranium is also banned in many of our jurisdictions. And so not only must we consider removing the nuclear ban, but I would also encourage a rethink of the moratoriums that exist, banning the exploration and mining of uranium.
Let me now bring my remarks to a close before we go to our panel. And in doing so, say again, what a great pleasure it is to be here with my Liberal and National colleagues from the Australian Parliament. And I thank again the World Nuclear Association, and also Coalition for Conservation.
And it is indeed with optimism and hope that I look forward to Australia working with our friends and allies to ensure we do create a better world for future generations. Thank you very much.