The ‘expert panel’ to which the Morrison government has delegated responsibility for searching out new sources emissions reductions this week, has effectively shut out the clean energy sector from its secret consultation process.
This week, details emerged that federal minister for energy and emissions reduction, Angus Taylor, had stacked the ‘expert panel’, government reps and led by a pair with close ties to the fossil fuel sector.
The ‘Expert Panel Examining Opportunities for Further Abatement’ has released a discussion paper, which flags the desire of the Morrison Government to use its rebranded Climate Solutions Fund to eke out additional emissions reduction, in an acknowledgement that the government is not on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.
The Morrison government has long faced accusations that its policy platform won’t deliver its claimed greenhouse reductions, with officials from the Department of Environment and Energy conceding it could not guarantee the government’s policies were sufficient to meet the targets.
It appears that the clean energy sector has been shut out of the discussion, despite the government’s own figures showing strong growth in renewable electricity generation leading to the electricity sector being the one sector of the Australian economy where good progress towards reducing emissions is being made.
In fact, it’s not entirely clear who exactly the expert panel is consulting with.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Energy told RenewEconomy that a range of stakeholders had received invitations to respond to the expert panel’s consultation paper, including “organisations from industry, manufacturing, energy, clean energy, energy efficiency, mining, agriculture and transport sectors, as well as energy users, environmental groups, carbon market organisations.”
However, at the time of publishing, RenewEconomy has not been able to confirm that any representatives of the clean energy sector have actually made a submission to the expert panel.
A request submitted to the Department of Environment and Energy, which is providing secretariat support to the expert panel, to provide a list of organisations that received the discussion paper and an invitation to provide a submission to the panel has not been answered.
But RenewEconomy has confirmed that, at the time of publishing, neither the Clean Energy Council, nor the Smart Energy Council had received an invitation to make submissions.
“While the Clean Energy Council has not been directly approached to participate in the review of the ERF to date, we welcome the opportunity to contribute and ensure the ERF may play a bigger role in providing investor confidence across all sectors of the economy,” head of the Clean Energy Council Kane Thornton said.
However, with the current president of the Business Council of Australia heading the expert panel, it is safe to presume the business group has contributed to the review.
A collection of ten organisations combined to submit a joint letter to the panel, including the Energy Efficiency Council, the Carbon Market Institute, the Green Building Council of Australia and the Investor Group on Climate Change.
In the joint letter, the organisations said that the current policies of the Morrison government are unlikely to be sufficient to achieve the 2030 emissions reduction targets.
The organisations said funding committed to the Climate Solutions Fund is likely to be insufficient.
“The existing funding per ton of abatement currently sought through the Climate Solutions Fund (CSF) is unlikely to be sufficient to pull through technologies that are new to market or new to Australian sectors,” the letter said.
“We note that policies focussed on the abatement options that are currently cheapest and most accessible across the economy – as elements of land and waste have recently been – will not be enough to deliver a least-cost long term transition for Australia’s economy.”
The group suggested that to drive substantial investment in reducing Australia’s emissions, the government should look to introduce policies that will drive private investment in emissions reductions, rather a reliance on the spending of public funds to purchase abatement.
In a standalone submission to the expert panel, the Carbon Market Institute said that the government must be cautious in considering whether to start “crediting” industrial companies that emit below their baselines under the Safeguard Mechanism, as there was a chance the government could create perverse outcomes.
“It is clear that greater initiatives are required to decarbonise industrial, manufacturing, agriculture and energy sectors and to encourage business providing emissions avoidance and reduction, including carbon sequestration,” the Carbon Market Institute said.
“However, as outlined below, great caution to avoid perverse outcomes should be exercised with proposals such as crediting under Safeguard Mechanism baselines.”
The Carbon Market Institute also flagged that the short timeframe for consultation, with the panel having around a month to report back to the energy minister, limited the ability for a comprehensive review of policies and possible considerations, to be adequately undertaken.
It appears the closed and time-constrained consultation process, as it currently stands, will not enable the ‘expert panel’ to deliver fully informed and considered recommendations to the government on emissions reductions.
If the Government is willing to concede that it is not on track to meet its emissions reduction goals, history suggests that consultation with the clean energy sector, and what support the government could provide to support its growth, would be a good place to start.
[Reporter’s note: a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Energy has since confirmed that an invitation sent to the Clean Energy Council to provide a submission to the review was not received due to a “technical error”, and that the invitation has since been re-sent].