The Morrison government has unveiled its “plan” for achieving net zero emissions by 2050 that includes no new policies, no changes to Australia’s 2030 target, and is predicated on unspecified technology breakthroughs and could result in Australia spend billions on international offsets.
Announcing on Tuesday that the Morrison government would commit to a formal zero net emissions target for 2050 – after weeks of strained negotiations with the Nationals – prime minister Scott Morrison and federal energy minister Angus Taylor’s “plan” delivered very little detail on how that target will be achieved.
A commitment to a zero net emissions target for 2050 is considered the minimum credible commitment expected from developed countries ahead of the COP26 talks in Glasgow.
But Morrison and Taylor’s plan, in fact, made very clear that there would be no substantial changes to government policy, and no new legislation, explicitly saying that it was ‘based on existing policies’.
The net zero target would not be enshrined in law, there would be no “mandates” to reduce emissions, and no increase to the 2030 target.
The government’s plan is heavily reliant on unspecified advancements in technologies across the electricity sector, agriculture, transport and industry which may emerge in its “Technology Investment Roadmap” – to achieve a further 40 per cent reduction in Australian emissions.
Taylor said the government would add new targets for developing “ultra-low solar” energy to the Technology Investment Roadmap – lowering costs to $15 per MWh – alongside the existing targets around carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production, soil carbon and low emissions materials production.
The only other new commitments are a plan for five-yearly reviews of the economic impacts on regional communities to be conducted by the Productivity Commission and the promotion of resources minister Keith Pitt back into the federal cabinet.
Taylor said on Tuesday that Australia had already reduced emissions by 20 per cent since 2005, which largely been achieved reduced emissions from land clearing, as recognised into the Kyoto Protocol through the controversial “Australia clause”.
In addition to the 40 per cent cut to be driven by the Technology Investment Roadmap – the government’s projections show that the remaining 40 per cent cut will be achieved through unspecified “global technology trends”, “further technology breakthroughs” and the purchase of offsets.
The projections expect that emissions from the electricity sector will fall by 91 to 97 per cent by 2050 – implying a substantial ramp-up in the use of renewable energy technologies.
While Taylor would not say what technologies the government expects to feature in Australia’s electricity system by 2050, the projections suggest an almost complete phase-out of coal fired generation.
The government appears set to lean heavily on emissions reductions being achieved by soil carbon and carbon capture and storage projects – two technologies that have not yet demonstrated an ability to achieve large-scale emissions abatement.
Taylor added that updated projections will show that Australia is on track to reduce its emissions by between 30 and 35 per cent by 2030, beyond the government’s current emissions reduction target to cut emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent.
But, Morrison said that he would not increase Australia’s 2030 target to match this projection, nor would he seek a mandate to strengthen the 2030 target at the next election.
Morrison and Taylor’s announcement was quickly panned by the Labor opposition, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese saying that it amounted to a “vibe” rather than a meaningful plan.
“The prime minister announced a vibe today rather than a target. It’s all in the vibe of what’s happening and we will wait and see in terms of the details. Of course, you weren’t given any detail.”
“As always, with this prime minister, it is all about marketing. All about the spin, never about the substance. If this plan was really supported by the whole of the Coalition, then Barnaby Joyce would have launched it with the Prime Minister.”
Climate Council CEO, Amanda McKenzie, added that the government’s plan was undermined by a lack of commitments to accelerate emissions reduction before 2030.
“The Federal government has now cemented the commitments from all state governments, putting Australia on a path to phase out coal, oil and gas pollution,” McKenzie said.
“Net zero by 2050 is a joke without strong emissions cuts this decade. Australia desperately needs to dramatically scale up renewable energy, phase out coal and gas and electrify our transport systems. Otherwise, we miss out on the economic opportunities of the global transition and expose ourselves to the fire, flood and heat risks of climate change.”
Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy likewise said that the commitment to a 2050 target meant little without stronger short and medium-term targets.
“With climate change such an urgent problem for Australia and the world, a 2050 target is not enough,” O’Shanassy said.
“Dramatically cutting climate pollution this decade will be the main concern at the Glasgow climate talks and it’s the main game if we want to deliver a safe future for Australian kids and if we want new clean industries and jobs. Unless the government sets the wheels in motion to cut our emissions in half by 2030, it is making climate change worse and turning its back on the opportunities.”
In short, Australia's federal emissions reduction strategy remains the same – to free-ride on technology changes brought on by other countries, policies & measures of state governments, uptake of clean tech by citizens and voluntary reductions made by corporates.
— Kobad Bhavnagri (@kobadb) October 26, 2021
CEO of the Carbon Market Institute, John Connor, said the government’s plan was a missed opportunity and still left Australia vulnerable to trade measures being introduced by other countries due to a failure to price emissions.
“Net zero by 2050 is the minimum entry ticket to the climate policy credibility and alone won’t fend off potential carbon tariffs and higher capital costs increasingly facing carbon intensive companies and countries,” Connor said
“That will require stronger 2030 commitments, not just projections, and policies that enable business to take greater responsibility and guide future decarbonisation investments,”
“A policy that limits ambition to net zero by 2050 and positions the taxpayer as the main driver of decarbonisation is also a missed opportunity to fully leverage the investments and opportunities arising from state government and business actions, and position Australia as a leader in realising the opportunities of the transition to net-zero emissions.”