Morrison’s last minute climate token: $70m a year for ‘international partnerships’

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed his government will spend $566 million over the next eight years on “international partnerships” on low emissions technology, in a palsied effort to persuade the international community Australia takes climate change seriously.

The plan is extremely light on detail, with the money earmarked only for unspecified “low emissions international technology partnerships” with unnamed countries.

It continues the Morrison government’s approach of offering no hard policies to reduce emissions, preferring relatively small investments in technology, and trusting – generally without evidence – that those technologies will take off and so push emissions down.

The partnerships will focus on the five technologies identified in the Technology Investment Roadmap released last year: hydrogen, long-duration storage, developing low-carbon materials such as steel, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon.

Morrison said Alan Finkel, Australia’s former chief scientist and now the federal government’s special adviser on low emissions technology, would “play a key role in brokering new international partnerships.” No details were given of which countries would be involved in the partnerships, but Morrison mentioned Germany, Japan, Korea, Singapore, the UK and the US as potential suitors.

He said for every dollar Australia invested, he hoped to raise $3 to $5 of investment from partner countries.

The announcement, which amounts to around $70 million a year, comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s leaders’ climate summit, a meeting that will include leaders of the world’s biggest economies – including China’s Xi Jinping and Morrison himself – and will set the tone for the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow in November.

Yesterday Morrison pledged a similar amount to invest in carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, meaning he will go to Biden’s meeting with $1.1 billion of new promised investments. Yesterday’s pledge included money for “blue hydrogen”, which is made from coal or gas with CCS, a method that inevitably leads to CO2 emissions escaping into the atmosphere.

Responding to the announcement, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote on Twitter: “Our intense focus must be on green hydrogen made by electrolysing water with renewable electricity.”

By investing directly in blue hydrogen and CCS, the would government will in effect be propping up the coal and gas industry, a fact Morrison made little attempt to hide on Thursday.

“As we look to take advantage of these new export opportunities, we won’t look to reduce our own emissions by shutting down our existing export industries like agriculture, aluminium, coal and gas,” he said.

“Cheaper energy from new technology that meets our emissions reduction commitments means lower costs to businesses so they can keep employing Australians and grow jobs for the future.”

The money Morrison is offering pales into insignificance next to the hundreds of billions Biden has already pledged to emissions reduction measures in his $US1.9 trillion infrastructure bill, and the trillions of dollars of additional green funding planned.

It also pales next to the US plan to halve its emissions by 2030, and the UK’s world-leading pledge to reduce its emissions by 78 per cent below 1990 levels by 2035, and to the tens of billions that private investors are looking to put into zero carbon technologies, such as green hydrogen.

Speaking on ABC Radio National on Thursday morning, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor dodged the question of whether Australia would be increasing its existing commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

He tried to focus instead on “projections”, in a clear sign the Morrison government currently has no intention to honour its obligation under the Paris Agreement to ratchet up its targets this year.

Taylor insisted that actual emissions reductions rather than promises are what count. But yet another report, this time from BloombergNEF, underlines the fact that Australia is way off course to reach even its modest 2030 target.

“Of greater concern is the fact that the country lacks concrete policy support to achieve its existing 2030 goal,” it notes in its latest assessment of G20 countries.

As Taylor also insisted that the government would not reduce its exports of emissions intense coal and gas,   a letter signed by 101 Nobel laureates led by the Dalai Lama called on nations around the world to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“As Nobel Laureates from peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry and economic sciences, and like so many people around the globe, we are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature,” the letter read.

“Climate change is threatening hundreds of millions of lives, livelihoods across every continent and is putting thousands of species at risk. The burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – is by far the major contributor to climate change.”

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