Last week, the Australian government announced the merger of two cabinet-level departments, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Unfortunately, moving the stand-alone department on climate change has raised concerns that Australia is taking the climate change challenge less seriously. But the merger is actually a welcome sign of growing international recognition that innovation policy and climate change mitigation are inescapably linked and it should further mitigation efforts, not hinder them.
On the one hand, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard describes the creation of the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education as “inevitable, natural, logical.” On the other hand, the leader of the Australian Greens, an opposition party, criticizes the move as a “retreat on addressing global warming.” But the Gillard government has already demonstrated a firm commitment to combating climate change with the recent creation of entities like the Climate Commission, an independent source of information about the science of climate change, and the Climate Change Authority, which provides expert advice to the Australian government on climate change mitigation initiatives. Furthermore, the Gillard government also launched the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) last year, which ITIF profiled here. ARENA is a sort of Australian counterpart to the United States’ highly successful Advanced Renewable Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), but benefits from more robust funding that is guaranteed in legislation through 2020.
ITIF and many others have repeatedly noted that innovating cost and performance competitive clean energy technologies is essential to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. Thus, despite the Australian Greens’ concerns, the merger of the two departments has received support from stakeholders like the chief executive of the Australia-based Climate Initiative, who defended it by pointing out that “Industry and Innovation is not an illogical place for climate change.” The Australian government press release summarizes, “Reducing carbon pollution and transforming the economy to compete in a low carbon global economy will be key drivers of Australia’s industrial structure. Industry and innovation policy needs to reflect this imperative.”
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