Building a Green Economy in Australia

Traveling through Australia, every day I am here I see examples of growing a green economy and creating new jobs while mitigating the dangerous effects of climate change.

On the federal level, Prime Minister Julia Gillard bravely proposed instituting a price on carbon emissions to be instituted in July 2012  -- a strategy touted by many top thinkers including Tom Friedman of the New York Times as key to pivoting our economy away from dependence on fossil fuels. Despite recent public opinion polls showing 72 percent of Australians believe their country should act to combat the ravages of climate change, the political opposition -- stoked in part by the fossil fuel industry -- has launched vicious attacks against the tax. Negotiations continue on the tax implementation plans nonetheless, emboldened by supporters carrying signs such as "Carbon price, our kids are worth it.

The Australian government is partly funding the largest solar power plant in the world in Victoria. When completed, the plant is predicted to provide power for 60,000 homes each year, and save "more than 11 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the operational lifespan of the plant," according to Business World Australia.

From 2009 to 2010, according to the Pew Environmental Group's report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2010 Edition," clean energy investments in Australia more than tripled to a total of $3.3 billion, primarily with heavy investments in wind and solar power. Over the five-year period, from 2005 to 2010, Australia's total investment growth was 42.5 percent.

On the local level, there are countless examples of initiatives taking root across the country, without waiting for federal leaders to act.

The nation's capital of Canberra is well on its way to becoming the greenest city in the nation with the highest investment in sustainable construction per capita -- "just over 1.1 square metres of Green Star-rated building space per person" -- according to the Chief of the Australian Green Building Council, Romilly Madew.

Brisbane is pioneering a two-tiered strategy to produce locally grown food in urban spaces. It is considered the first city in the world to include both urban farming and green roofs in a sustainability action plan to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, and potentially improve local diets.

In Sydney's Central Park, planners are creating a mixed use urban space they hope will be the "benchmark for sustainable living globally," with retail, work and living spaces, schools and recreational activities. According to the New York Times, its facilities will have their own smart grid where energy is retrieved from "trigeneration generators, a system where heat, mechanical energy and cooling are created from a single source," usage is timed with peak/off-peak hours, and excess electricity can be exported to nearby neighborhoods. State-of-the art water systems and roofs will be designed to turn rainwater into drinking water, and waste water will be treated for use in watering gardens and washing clothes. It could create as many as 1,200 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs throughout the mixed use space.

This is not to say that all Australians support action on climate change issues, as evidenced by violent threats recently against climate scientists at Canberra's Australia National University.

As in Australia, brave, innovative leaders across the globe are leading the charge to a sustainable way of life and a green economy. Just as the radiation from the nuclear accident in Japan can reach California's shores, creative solutions know no borders either.

The more courageous leaders, like Prime Minister Gillard, who step up to build a clean energy future, and the more we share best practices across all types of borders, the faster we'll build a sustainable economy for generations to come -- and the jobs that come with it. We can and we must. "Our kids are worth it."