AUSTRALIANS would need to cut their energy use by an average of 16 per cent over the next decade under an ambitious proposal before the Gillard government to lift energy efficiency and help tackle climate change.

Expert advice to the government, obtained by The Age, recommends boosting the nation’s energy efficiency by 30 per cent by 2020 to lift economic productivity and help Australia move to a low-carbon future.

But the report – prepared by a task group set up by former prime minister Kevin Rudd – emphasises Australia needs a carbon price to do the ”heavy lifting” to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Details of the report emerged as the first meeting of Julia Gillard’s multiparty climate change committee yesterday buried her much-maligned plan for a ”citizens’ assembly” of Australians to debate carbon policy.

Speaking after chairing the first meeting of the committee – which includes ministers, Greens and two independent MPs – Ms Gillard said it had been agreed that ”other ways of harnessing public dialogue” on the issue, apart from a citizens’ assembly, would be pursued.

Adding to speculation that the government could move in this term to introduce a carbon price, Ms Gillard said recent electricity price rises were being driven in part by uncertainty over the issue. ”Many experts will tell you that one of the problems with electricity generation is uncertainty about pricing carbon preventing people from making long-term investment – that puts upward pressure on prices,” she said.

Climate Minister Greg Combet also signalled that putting a price on carbon would remain the first priority. ”We believe that the most efficient and cost effective way to achieve reductions in carbon pollution is through a price on carbon.”

The report of the energy efficiency task group proposes an extensive energy savings plan and measures covering transport, buildings, energy markets and appliance efficiency standards.

The government received the report in July, but delayed its release during the election campaign after facing heavy criticism over climate policy.

The report proposes setting a target of cutting energy intensity (the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product) by 30 per cent over a decade. It would require an average cut of 16 per cent in energy use for every Australian.

To get there, the government would introduce a national energy savings initiative – which might entail demanding that energy companies meet annual energy savings targets.

Households and businesses would earn credits for taking energy saving steps, such as buying more efficient fridges or heating and cooling systems, and could sell the credits to energy companies.

The report estimates a national energy savings scheme would cut average household power bills by between $87 and $180 a year, compared with what they would otherwise be.

The task group found energy efficiency was an ”untapped resource” that could both boost productivity and help Australia move to a cleaner future.

Yet while other countries were already finding competitive advantages by improving energy use, Australia was falling behind. Its energy efficiency policies had been piecemeal, poorly designed and at times costly without leading to any improvement.

State efficiency programs – including a Victorian scheme that has recently been doubled to a target of saving 5.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – would be swallowed into the national program.

In comments strongly backing the need for a carbon price, the report says: ”By far the most important element in a vision of a step change in Australia’s energy efficiency improvement is the presence of an explicit price on carbon.”

”Energy efficiency policy is an important part of a suite of responses to climate change, but it cannot realistically be expected to do the ‘heavy lifting’ needed to deliver Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction targets”.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said Ms Gillard had now ditched her two big climate election promises – the citizens’ assembly and the pledge not to have a carbon tax. ”How can the public trust her not to double electricity prices?”

Source: Cool Sydney.