2018 Lowy Institute Poll – Climate change, renewables and coal.Jun 21, 2018
Despite the debate and political rhetoric, most Australians have not been persuaded to support coal over renewables for the nation’s energy security. Almost all Australians remain in favour of renewables, rather than coal, as an energy source. In 2018, 84% (up three points since 2017) say ‘the government should focus on renewables, even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable’.
Attitudes about climate change have been undergoing a dramatic reversal over the past six years. The number of Australians who saw global warming as a ‘serious and pressing problem’ about which ‘we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’ fell from 68% in 2006 to 36% in 2012. Since then, however, concern about global warming has been rising steadily. In 2018, almost six in ten Australians (59%) say global warming is ‘a serious and pressing problem’, up five points since 2017 and 23 points since 2012.
The issue of climate change and global warming continues to split Australians along generational lines. While a clear majority (70%) of younger Australians aged 18–44 see ‘global warming’ as a ‘serious and pressing problem’, just less than half (49%) of their elders have the same level of concern.
Renewables vs coal
Power shortages in the southern states in early 2017 during heatwaves and storms, combined with the closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in March 2017 and the proposed decommissioning of AGL’s Liddell coal-fired station in 2022, provoked a fierce debate about energy security in Australia during 2017. Later in the year, the Australian government put forward a new framework for energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee, with the aim of delivering a reliable, affordable energy supply. More recently, the Minister for Energy, Josh Frydenberg, has argued publicly that the sale, rather than closure, of the Liddell station would be ‘in the public interest’.
Despite the debate and political rhetoric, most Australians have not been persuaded to support coal over renewables for the nation’s energy security. Almost all Australians remain in favour of renewables, rather than coal, as an energy source. In 2018, 84% (up three points since 2017) say ‘the government should focus on renewables, even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable’. Only 14% say ‘the government should focus on traditional energy sources such as coal and gas, even if this means the environment may suffer to some extent’. Even among those who take the most sceptical view about global warming (the 10% who say ‘until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs’), 40% favour a focus on renewables. Nine in ten of the rest support a focus on renewables rather than coal, as do 72% of Liberal-National Party supporters.
These attitudes are consistent with previous findings of the Lowy Institute Poll on Australians’ preference for alternative energy sources. In 2016, most Australians (88%) agreed that ‘the use of fossil fuels is in decline around the world and Australia should invest more in alternative energy sources or risk being left behind’. Only 53% agreed (45% disagreed) that ‘Australia has an abundant supply of fossil fuels and we should continue to use and export them to keep our economy strong’.