The Nationals, the federal government’s junior Coalition partner, has drawn a line in the sand on net zero emissions targets in an extraordinary attack on both climate policies and renewables, confirming its status as the party of climate denial and fossil fuels.
The Nationals, from the acting prime minister Michael McCormack, resources minister Keith Pitt and all the way to former ministers Bridget McKenzie and Barnaby Joyce, have made their position clear – there will be no support for a net zero target by 2050, or even any net zero emissions target at all.
McKenzie, appearing on the far right Sky News television channel, told commentator Alan Jones: “The National Party … has not signed up to net zero anything at any time and we’ll take a lot of convincing that that is actually the destination we need to get to.”
McCormack was asked by The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan if this was true: “Can we be sure that the Nationals will oppose any sort of net zero target,” McCormack was asked. “Correct,” was his response.
We probably need to pause here to understand exactly what the National are saying. Climate experts insist that if we are to meet the Paris treaty goal of 1.5°C, which Australia signed up to, then net zero needs to be achieved well before 2040. In effect, the Nationals are saying no to the science, and no to the experts.
Pitt, who represents the LNP in Queensland, turned his focus on renewables.
“I live in the world of reality. Coal will be around for a long time,” he told ABC’s Radio National breakfast program.
“The alternative is that you turn the lights off. You need things that work. solar fails … solar turns itself off every single day. Battery technology is nowhere near where it needs to be to running the Australian economy.”
At least, this time, Pitt acknowledged that battery technology actually exists. Asked a few weeks ago if battery storage is dispatchable (it is), and what technologies were, Pitt refused to even utter the words “battery storage.”
Asked by the ABC’s Fran Kelly if his “reality” included the overwhelming scientific advice that emissions have to be dramatically reduced in the coming decade, the warnings by the International Energy Agency against any new coal, gas or oil projects, and the flight of global capital to renewables and green technologies, Pitt said: “It’s about doing stuff that works and getting things done.”
Joyce went even further, saying he didn’t want any of the estimated $11 billion that will be spent on wind, solar and storage in his local area that is covered by the state Coalition government’s proposed New England renewable energy zone.
“This is just never going to work for our nation,” Joyce told The Weekend Australian’s magazine in a report highlighting just how happy many farmers are to embrace solar technology. “Economically, it just doesn’t stack up as a reliable form of power.”
That claim again goes against the advice of the experts. The CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator, whose job it is to keep the lights on, say it is clear that wind and solar are the cheapest form of generation, even with “firming” and transmission costs added in.
AEMO has plotted a 20-year blueprint to take Australia to at least 90 per cent renewables by 2040, and is working on an update that will look at how this renewables transition can be achieved even quicker. The IEA predicts solar will become the “king” of energy.
Of course, the timing of these comments from the Nationals is no accident. Australia is coming under increased pressure from the international community to pull its weight on emissions reductions, and the government is being urged by big business to pull its head out of the ground and wake up to the enormous opportunities of the green energy transition.
Australia has so far resisted a call to set a net zero by 2050 target – considered the bare minimum for any advanced economy for even the 2°C target – and is trying to pretend it is doing more than others on emissions cuts.
Its claimed 20 per cent reduction since 1990 is based entirely on an accounting trick that credits Australia for not cutting down so many trees after a record year of land clearing (in 1990). Its industrial emissions have barely moved over the last three decades, despite the emission cuts in the main grid achieved by wind and solar.
Australia is now being warned it faces a carbon price on its exports to Europe, to protect the industries of that economic community who are setting more ambitious climate targets.
McKenzie claims it will be “our miners, our farmers, our manufacturers that will be paying the price for all this posturing”, which is apparently how Nationals describe expert advice. A bit like “virtue signalling”, whatever that means.
Of course, most miners, farmers and manufacturers have a completely different view. The National Farmers Federation supports an ambitious climate policy, because they can see what significant climate change will do to their industry, and they see great commercial opportunities in taking action.
Manufacturers see the huge opportunities from cheaper and cleaner fuels, and the miners – with the exception of some in the fossil fuel industry – can see which way the world is turning.
“Fossils” was the term used by iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest ahead of the country’s biggest oil and gas conference, singling out Woodside and Santos in particular.
Forrest has set his own ambitious target of hundreds of gigawatts of wind and solar to create green hydrogen and the clean energy industries of the future, including steel and manufacturing. The rest of the world is in the same race.
The federal Nationals, for reasons best known to them, have bet their and the country’s future on the past. They are the party of climate denial, and of promoting fossil fuels over farming and other industries. It’s important to be clear about that.