The most fundamental flaw of the Technology Investment Roadmap is what it doesn’t talk about, namely carbon emission targets and the best way to achieve them. In fact, emissions are discussed only very briefly by way of mentioning emissions by sector. There is no discussion of the existing government schemes, such as they are.
There is no discussion of how the technology solutions are supposed to achieve carbon targets. There is discussion of medium and long term technologies, but zero context of how this relates to carbon ambitions.
The report is thus a way to pay lip service to the “we take climate change seriously” message, without committing the Government to do anything at all, and it provides a way for them to continue to play favourites. It’s an excellent example of a poor policy approach.
An economy wide carbon price remains most efficient way to let private sector work out the answers
There is little time here to go over the reasons why a price on carbon is the best answer. Every economist says so. This is yet another example of where science, in this case “economic science”, is ignored by Goverments thinking they know better.
The short answer is that a carbon price is “technology neutral”. It sets a carbon budget and lets the market work out the most efficient answer. Trading carbon permits lets high emitters buy permits from low emitters. The theory and practice has been worked out over the past 30 years.
LNP has adopted “anti climate change” as a base value
To the detriment of the broader Australian public, as consistently expressed in opinion polls, and in my view to the detriment of Australia’s long term national interest, the Federal LNP has adopted as a core value an anti carbon price ideology. Essentially they also know that a significant part of LNP voters does not take climate change seriously, if they “believe” it at all.
The Federal LNP have been forced into a position where they cannot back down without undermining the values on which their supporters rely.
It likely would be much harder for Scott Morrison to move the LNP to supporting a carbon price than it would for John Howard. It’s worth all Australians thinking about this. Much harder but no impossible. It would require (1) Morrison believing it was a good thing (2) Morrison having enough authority to over ride the Queensland LNP and various other hardliners.
Australians accept petrol taxes with no real drama. Australians accept GST with no real drama. Australians believe climate change is a problem.
Underlying premise is “technology will cause decarbonization without govt action”
The report focusses on technologies that may aid decarbonisation. The underlying but unstated premise is that if the Government gives its favourites a nudge then decarbonsiation will happen without the Government doing anything else. Is it worth talking about this? Is it worth mentioning what the Paris targets actually require? Is it worth talking about what will happen, even in rich Australia, if we don’t meet the targets?
No, it is not worth talking about these things because it won’t be until the next bushfire, the next catastrophic storm, the ongoing droughts, stifling enervating heat waves that will eventually lead to more action.
Picking winners, playing favourites has always been poor policy
Whether its Snowy 2.0, given the go ahead without having to go through a competitive process, or the UNGI program where price or even value for money don’t appear to be on the selection criteria, the Government likes to pick winners. The point about a carbon tax is that the Government sets the target and then lets the market work out how to achieve it.
This technology roadmap report, to the extent that it has any meaning at all, does the opposite. It picks technology winners. There is abundant evidence, of which this report itself forms a small part, that Governments are very bad at picking winners. There is a long literature on this and no need to say more.
Report provides many thought bubbles but little or no data
In all honesty you have to wonder at the rigour that goes into this kind of report. Running through a bunch of technologies with vague statements about how good or bad they are is little better than “internet research”. It’s garbage quite frankly and the authors should be embarrassed. Imagine writing a report like that and submitting it for a PhD.
There is no real literature review, there is little or no evidence presented to support the many grandiose assumptions, and very few case studies. There is no discussion of international approaches.
All sorts of statements are made that don’t necessarily stand up or require significant qualifications when examined closely. Batteries v pumped hydro would be one example I am familiar with.
Other critics have already mentioned the listing of small load following nuclear technology as a technology that exists mainly on paper.
Further, hardly any technology is left unmentioned. It’s surprising wave technology, geothermal and even humans riding bicycles are left out of the electricity list.
Hydrogen is said to be better than batteries for heavy vehicles, ignoring perhaps that electric busses are in practice rapidly taking over urban bus routes.
I mean the point is that the range of technologies that are visible today is enormous enough but new technologies are bound to emerge.
David Leitch is a regular contributor to Renew Economy. He is principal at ITK, specialising in analysis of electricity, gas and decarbonisation drawn from 33 years experience in stockbroking research & analysis for UBS, JPMorgan and predecessor firms.