The Morrison government’s lack of ambition on clean energy means Australia is at risk of falling behind in the global hydrogen race, and its failure to set medium and long term emissions reduction targets could squander a future economic ‘boon’ for Australia, according to Labor’s climate and energy spokesperson, Chris Bowen.
In prepared remarks seen by RenewEconomy, Bowen will tell an Australian Hydrogen Council event on Friday that the Morrison government has dragged its feet on the development of Australia’s hydrogen industry and failed to set meaningful emissions reduction targets.
“Around the world, countries have now accepted the urgent need to decarbonise their economies,” Bowen will say.
“They are finally tackling the scientific and economic barriers to hydrogen – because they now have an existential imperative to do so. And carbon-intensive exporters have a second imperative: to diversify their offerings in the midst of the greatest economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution.”
“I’m sorry to say that Australia – or more accurately the Australian Government – is yet to accept those imperatives.”
In his first major speech on the potential of green hydrogen since stepping into the shadow climate and energy portfolio, Bowen blames the Morrison government’s ideological opposition to clean energy technologies for its failure to adequately support an emerging industry.
“When Labor announced a billion-dollar National Hydrogen Plan before the last election, the Government called it ‘snake oil’,” Bowen will say.
“Nearly three years later, the Government has now announced – you guessed it – nearly a billion dollars for hydrogen. That change of heart is certainly welcome. But the delay has consequences.”
“To take one example: had Labor won the election, Australia would already have a National Hydrogen Hub at Gladstone.”
“Instead, while $275 million for hydrogen hubs is very welcome, the Government is not expected to even announce the location of those hubs until next year,” Bowen adds.
Since its unexpected loss at the last federal election, Labor has been undertaking a few of its climate change policies and has so far sought to position itself as primarily focused on the economic and job opportunities being created in the clean energy sector.
Bowen will use the forum to stress the importance of both long and medium-term emissions reduction targets to spur the growth of Australia’s hydrogen industry, suggesting that Labor is likely to unveil a new set of targets before the next election.
The recent announcement that former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon – who has spent the last few years running interference for the fossil fuel industry – will quit politics ahead of the next election, should improve Labor’s ability to adopt a more ambitious climate and energy policy platform than that of the Morrison government.
Bowen will tell the Australian Hydrogen Council event that while Labor did not entirely oppose the production of hydrogen using fossil fuels when paired with carbon capture and storage, it remains opposed to using the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund such projects – as the Morrison government is proposing to do.
“Some are ideological about blue hydrogen. I’m not,” Bowen will say. “I care about emissions outputs, not energy inputs.”
“If blue hydrogen stacks up scientifically and commercially, it should be supported and ultimately that will be decided by markets, not politicians.”
“But that’s no reason to bastardise the CEFC and ARENA. The hint is in those agencies’ names. They’re the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Agency.”
“They don’t have the money, the expertise or frankly the appetite to invest in fossil fuel technologies. It’s a bad fit all round. But this is part of a broader effort by the Government to conflate green and blue hydrogen as ‘clean’ hydrogen,” Bowen added.
Bowen will also criticise the current state of Morrison government policies, recognising that the next round of international climate talks will be held in November, which Labor will argue are now lagging behind those of Australia’s international peers.
“It’s now less than two months until COP26 in Glasgow,” Bowen says. “But the Government is yet to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.”
“That puts it behind every state and territory, behind our major businesses and industry groups, and most relevant for our purposes, behind more than 130 other countries. That lack of ambition matters for us as a country. It exposes us to climate risks like more intense bushfires, as well as transition risks like global carbon tariffs.”
“I’ll continue to call on the Government to commit to net zero by 2050, a credible medium term ambition, and importantly, policies in each sector to achieve those targets. That would be a boon for Australia in general, and your industry in particular.”