Most Australians want renewables to be primary energy source, survey finds


Climate Institute survey points to overwhelming frustration with government’s inaction and lack of leadership on clean energy

The vast majority of Australians want to see the country dramatically increase the use of renewable energy, a new survey has found, despite attempts by the federal government to characterise renewables as unreliable and expensive. The Climate Institute’s national Climate of the Nation survey, published on Tuesday, pointed to frustration with the government’s inaction and lack of leadership on clean energy.


Of 2,660 respondents from across Australia, 71% agreed that climate change was occurring, continuing a trend established in the survey through 2014 and 2015. Two-thirds said they were highly concerned by its impacts, while 57% accepted that human activity was the main cause.
Ninety-six percent of respondents said they wanted the country’s primary energy source to be renewable, with support from either storage technologies (58%) or fossil fuels (38%). The phaseout of coal and replacement with clean energy received support from 59%, with 72% of those in favour calling on the government to drive the transition.
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Olivia Kember, the acting chief executive of the Climate Institute, said support for renewable energy had been steadfast across 11 years of the survey and was widely seen as “economically smart” and future-focused. This remained true, she said, “even as the public discussion of energy mix has got a lot more complicated”, with the federal government labelling renewables unreliable and costly.
“It’s really striking that people have come out the other side of that discussion with really strong support for renewable energy and a strong sense that we need to go towards a cleaner energy system,” Kember said.
The finding that one-third of respondents believed the seriousness of climate change to have been exaggerated – and that 13% did not believe it to be happening at all – aligned very strongly with political affiliation, in particular One Nation and Coalition voters.
But enthusiasm for a greater dependency on renewable energy seemed nonpartisan, said Kember, with support for solar in particular consistent across just about every demographic breakdown.
People linked high electricity prices to the privatisation of electricity generation and supply (55%) and poor policy-making (44%), echoing the findings of Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, in his recent review of the sector.
Kember said the market was not seen to be functioning effectively: “What they see are higher prices, worse service and companies that seem to be profiteering.”
More than 40% of respondents said the federal government was “doing a fairly poor to terrible job” on climate change and energy, up from 33% last year. Only 18% said their efforts were “fairly good to excellent”.
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The discussions of eight focus groups, convened in Adelaide, Brisbane, Parramatta and Townsville, highlighted that the Australian public felt “fatigued, discouraged and disempowered” by the politically motivated arguments around climate change.
This was coupled with what researchers characterised as a “wilful disregard” for scientists, notably the government agency CSIRO. One respondent, in a focus group in Parramatta, said climate change had been used as a “political football”.
“For a long time now – because we’ve been having this fight for such a long time – they get that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved, and they see that there’s a lot Australia can do about it,” said Kember.
“Then they look at what the government is delivering and they’re beyond unimpressed. They’re really frustrated and annoyed at the way it keeps being treated as an opportunity for partisanship, political attacks and bickering.
“While the pollies are fighting about it, they’re not getting on with solving it.”
This was despite widespread support (63%) for Australia to be an international leader on action against climate change, particularly in pioneering the development and implementation of renewable energies. Nearly three-quarters of respondents were motivated by the opportunities for the economy through jobs and investment (73%) and by protecting the environment (70%).
Relatedly, the report found that people were generally in favour of the Paris agreement to curb global warming to 1.5-2C, and could not understand why the Australian government was not making stronger attempts to deliver on it.
Nine out of 10 people opposed walking away from the Paris deal as the US did on 1 June, while almost two-thirds (61%) said Australia should “work harder” to ensure it met its overall goals.