How Coalition’s “brain trust” claimed zero emissions would lead to “humanitarian disaster”

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Members of the federal government backbench have gleefully leapt on a new report from their favourite conservative think thank that sensationally claims that entire regional townships will be “devastated” by stronger emissions reduction targets.

The report from the Institute of Public Affairs, amplified by the likes of Nationals Senator Matt Canavan and others, and the Murdoch media, is clearly designed to undermine prime minister Scott Morrison, who is reportedly preparing to commit Australia to a zero emissions target.

If you are to believe the IPA – which has previously argued Australia should withdraw from international climate targets, and dump all climate and renewable energy schemes – more than 650,000 jobs could be “at risk” with the introduction of a target to reach net zero emissions.

The estimate, of course, is a nonsense, and is the result of a lazy piece of work from the group that promotes itself as the brain trust of the Liberal Party.

How did the IPA come up with that figure? The IPA calculated an estimate of the emissions intensity of different industries based on the level of emissions produced by that industry per the number of people employed.

Any job in an industry that had an above-average emissions intensity was deemed to be “at risk”. Using this analysis, the IPA has sought to scare regional townships by claiming that a “net zero emissions target would destroy communities.”

Source: Institute of Public Affairs.

And so the IPA concludes that literally every job in the agricultural, electricity, forestry, and mining industries would be “at risk”.

That’s it. That’s the whole basis on which the IPA claims that entire regional townships face a “humanitarian and social disaster”.

No explanation for why these jobs should be considered at risk, nor of the new opportunities that will be created in regional areas during a transition to a low emissions economy.

No assessment of how the different industries may adapt over the coming decades in a carbon constrained economy. No consideration that not all jobs in those sectors are the same (some farmers, for instance, grow crops).

No consideration of the warnings that many Australian industries, including the agricultural sector, face the real risk of devastation from the impacts of global warming, including through more intense droughts and floods.

The report even claims that 64,100 jobs in the electricity industry are at risk – which, according to the same Australian Bureau of Statistics data cited by the IPA, includes at least 23,400 people who work to maintain electricity networks and presumably includes much of the 26,850 people employed in the renewable energy sector.

At best, this is lazy research from the Liberal party aligned think tank, which has been a source of Liberal party policy and whose alumni fill-out the ranks of the Liberal-National caucus.

At worst, it is blatant scare mongering on an issue that requires genuine and thoughtful engagement.

And yet, the work gets a sympathetic treatment in Murdoch owned papers, with The Australian sensationally claiming it shows that ‘Regional towns face ‘complete destruction’‘ under a zero carbon target.

It has also been enthusiastically leapt upon by members of the Liberal National coalition, who have cited the report as justification for opposing Morrison’s apparent plans to adopt a net zero target.

The IPA report follows another low quality analysis of the cost of abatement of a switch to electric vehicles, produced by federal energy minister Angus Taylor.

Released two years after its initial announcement, a discussion paper for the National Electric Vehicle Strategy, renamed the ‘future fuels’ strategy was released, with grossly inflated costs of the emissions reductions achieved by electric vehicles.

The analysis has been slammed as misleading, and “flaccid”, and has been used by Taylor to attack electric vehicles.

It also included its own questionable use of numbers, with Taylor hand-picking data, using misleading comparisons between models of vehicles, and completing ignoring the fact that electric vehicles can be charged using renewable electricity.

The pressure on Australia to adopt stronger climate change policies, including more ambitious reduction targets, has been backed by a strong body of scientific and economic research. Scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change has strengthened over time, and the indication is that we are already locking in some of the predicted consequences.

But as recent evidence shows, the opposition to climate action lacks the same intellectual rigour. But as RenewEconomy has reported, it’s intention has always been about delaying action.

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