Kangaroos, didgeridoos? and wind turbines?

I have just come back to a chilly Belgium still streaked with snow after nearly a month in the Australian summer. Australia is a vast country, soaked in sunshine and swept by strong winds. Yet on my travels from Perth in the west to the central deserts and onto the east coast, I did not once spy a wind turbine in the endless landscape.

Australia is rich in coal, on which it has historically relied for its energy needs – and unsurprisingly, it is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters per capita. Yet the signs are that it may be waking up to the importance of tackling climate change and slowly turning towards renewables: in 2009, a national target was set of 20% of electricity supply from renewables by 2020.

Moreover, former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s decision to delay the implementation of a carbon trading scheme was part of the reason he was replaced by Julia Gillard last year, as public support for climate action increases.

Most significantly of all, however lacking in wind turbines Australia may appear, its installed wind energy capacity has started growing considerably. The total operating wind power capacity at the end of 2009 was 1,712 MW – a 31% rise on 2008. This generates about 4,284 GWh of electricity annually – 1.6% of the country’s demand – and saves Australia 4,284,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, a figure equivalent to the removal of 952,000 cars from the roads, according to the country’s Clean Energy Council.

With these real glimmers of hope, maybe tomorrow’s travellers to Australia, while enjoying the country’s timeless natural wonders just as I did, will also be able to appreciate something new and even better: a country that has taken a major step towards a cleaner energy future.

By Sarah Azau, blog.ewea.org