Mathias Cormann's tilt at the OECD's top job has been heavily criticised from some quarters.
Much of the criticism has centred around the climate policies of the government he was a part of. The Australian Greens, and now the UK Labour Party, have flat out suggested his bid should be rejected.
Much of this criticism is short-sighted and misses the most important point. Cormann's potential appointment as OECD secretary-general is a huge opportunity to to drive more ambitious climate action at home and abroad from a stronger consensus position.
Australia is already in the process of pivoting to a substantially stronger federal position on climate action. Winning the leadership of the OECD would provide renewed momentum to keep moving in the right direction.
The political bickering of recent years and our "climate wars" have taken the shine off what is objectively Australia's enviable reputation as a pioneer in the renewable energy transition and a country with a long and proud green tradition.
Australia's renewable energy capacity is growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average, and nearly three times faster than the next fastest country, Germany. Between 2017 and 2020, more than $30 billion was invested in renewables, one of the highest per capita investments worldwide. In particular, we are number one for installed photovoltaics per capita.
Cormann's role as a voice of reason in a centre-right Coalition government with a broad church of values has given him a unique understanding of how to influence the debate.
Australia is well on the way to becoming a renewable energy export powerhouse, and already has some of the largest projects on the pipeline. The Sun Cable project plans to integrate the world's largest battery, the world's largest solar farm, and a 4500-kilometre high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission system to Singapore and Indonesia. The proposed 26-gigawatt Asian Renewable Energy Hub will export green ammonia and hydrogen to Indonesia and Singapore.
All of the Australian states have net-zero 2050 targets. South Australia has 60 per cent of its electricity supplied by solar and wind, while Tasmania now has 100 per cent renewables and a target of 200 per cent of its current needs by 2040. NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean's Renewable Energy Roadmap will draw up to $25 billion in private sector investment in wind, solar and pumped hydro.
Importantly, these three states are led by Liberal governments, the same party Cormann's critics have chastised for not doing enough at the federal level. However federal projects such as Snowy 2.0 and the Marinus Link are emblematic of the changing tack of the federal government, and demonstrate the resolve to take a greater global leadership in existential issues.
Kyoto credits notwithstanding, our emissions have declined by 16.6 percent since 2005, better than the OECD average.
Australia has a vital role to play in decarbonising and supporting the Pacific, building resilience. The Pacific Step-up was implemented by the Turnbull government and supported by Morrison, and has given us significant political capital in the Pacific. We are well placed to provide aid and support for Pacific Island nations, improve energy security and access for these countries, aid in climate action to prevent sea-level rise, and to help ensure the military security of the Pacific.
Cormann has responded to criticism of his environmental credentials, saying that he is absolutely committed to the Paris Agreement and "ambitious and effective action" on climate change to reach zero net emissions as soon as possible.
"I give this commitment: if selected as secretary-general of the OECD, I will use every lever available through the organisation to help lead and drive ambitious and effective action on climate change as a top priority," he said.
As Cormann himself said recently, to maximise global emissions-reduction outcomes, we will have to bring people together, not to continue to polarise the debate.
Cormann's role as a voice of reason in a centre-right Coalition government with a broad church of values has given him a unique understanding of how to influence the debate. Far from being hamstrung by this, it's a strength he can bring to the top job, along with his economic experience to use recovery responses as an opportunity for a green transition.
Cormann's joint Belgian and Australian heritage also gives him an edge, lending perspectives on the geopolitics of both Europe and Oceania. He has previously participated in politics in both arenas.
He has the background and experience needed to navigate the economic, social, and environmental challenges we face.
Rather than trivialise or obstruct Cormann's pitch for the job of OECD secretary-general, Australia should embrace the very real opportunities it could create for our global standing and the continuation of our domestic environmental enlightenment currently taking place.
- Cristina Talacko is chair, and Dr Matt Edwards is vice-chair, of the Coalition for Conservation.