The Morrison government has not modelled an Australian pathway to zero net emissions, despite the prime minister claiming that the debate over zero emissions was over, according to information provided by department officials to a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.
Representatives from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources appeared before a committee hearing on Friday, which is currently undertaking a review of a Climate Change Bill proposed by independent MP Zali Steggall.
The legislation proposed by Steggall has received wide ranging support from environmental and business groups, and would lock in a commitment to reaching zero net emissions, as well as tasking an independent commission with providing the government advice on how to effectively achieve that target.
Steggall is hoping the legislation can secure bipartisan support within the federal parliament, breaking down a deadlock that has hampered Australian climate change action for more than a decade.
During Friday’s committee hearing, Steggall sought to confirm with departmental officials whether the Morrison government had requested modelling be undertaken into what a trajectory to zero emissions may look like, and how much a transition would cost.
Head of the department’s International Climate and Technology Division, Kushla Munro, told the committee that the department had provided advice to the Morrison government on projections of Australia’s emissions out to 2030, and analysis of the potential impacts of the Technology Investment Roadmap, but would not confirm whether the department had been asked to model a net zero emissions trajectory.
When pressed by Steggall, the department acknowledged that prime minister Scott Morrison has increasingly accepted that a transition to net zero emissions was becoming inevitable, but that the department had not provided advice on what this may look like for Australia.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear that it’s no longer a question of if we need to reach net zero, but how you will do that,” Munro said, responding to Steggall.
“That work is underpinned and kicked off last year in terms of the technology investment roadmap, which, again, under your bill, you would continue that that work and assessment. But there are a number of things right across the economy, which will be considered and provided advice to the government in terms of how those longer term emissions reductions can be met.”
Steggall interpreted that response as indicating that the government had not asked the department to model a zero emissions scenario.
“Yeah, it’s clear from your evidence, the answer is no, you haven’t done that work,” Steggall responded.
The department officials responded by adding that the government had considered a wide range of factors when deciding on its current package of emissions reduction strategies.
“The advice and analysis that departments are providing to the government is both based on the work that we have done in the 2030 projections and the understanding of those trends, as well as the additional work that we’ve been doing through the technology investment roadmap,” Munro told the committee hearing.
“A number of factors will be looked at across the economy and that does culminate in terms of comprehensive advice from a number of sources that will bring together and provide that advice to the government as part of its long term missions reduction strategy.”
While Morrison has suggested that the debate on a transition to zero net emissions had been settled, the prime minister has refused to set an emissions target beyond 2030, and has refused to set a specific timeframe for when Australia may actually reach zero net emissions.
The Morrison government has indicated that it will present a ‘long term missions reduction strategy’ to the next round of climate talks, to be held in Glasgow at the end of the year, but it is understood that this will mostly consist of the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, which focused on reducing the costs of five handpicked technologies.
Earlier this week, a group of leading climate scientists and policy experts released new research that found Australia would need to dramatically increase the pace of emissions reductions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – including transitioning to zero net emissions as early as 2035 under a scenario where global warming was limited to just 1.5 degrees.
Director of Energy Finance Studies at Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Tim Buckley, also told the committee that Australia could be moving faster in its transition to clean energy sources, and that it was being left behind by other countries.
“The costs of inaction are huge. But we also need to figure in that the opportunities for Australia are equally huge, and that Australia will be a world superpower in energy in renewable energy, and that opportunity shouldn’t be overlooked,” Buckley told the hearing.
“Australia should be a leader, not a laggard as we currently are.”
“We are one of the top three exporters of fossil fuels. So we’re profiteering as the rest of the world is getting on to decarbonise,” Buckley added.