Last week our PM, one Scott (“Scotty from Marketing”) Morrison, scrambled to wrest control of our borders from a disruptive new Premier of NSW, one Dominic Perrottet, who effectively sidelined the PM, while announcing that he will indeed go to Glasgow to spruik our newly minted policy on climate change, that is, if his recalcitrant coalition partners, the Nationals, agree to have one.
Laura Tingle’s AFR opinion piece The most abject failure of leadership in living memory (published under a less pungent title at the ABC) asks “Who is in charge now?” since the states and the Nationals seem to be running the show.
Nothing has been finalised, as Michelle Grattan says Morrison set for Glasgow but has to finish packing his bag.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor will brief the Nationals on Sunday, the Liberals will meet on Monday. There will be a joint Liberal-National caucus on Tuesday, then cabinet will give it the stamp of approval on Wednesday.
Michael Mazengrab in Morrison agrees to go to Glasgow, Nationals to decide Australia’s climate policies gives Morrison’s telling quote:
- “I simply say to everyone that net zero was an outcome that I outlined at the beginning of this year, consistent with our Paris agreement,” Morrison said.
“The challenge is not about that ‘if’ and the ‘when’. It is about the ‘how’, and I am very focused about the ‘how’ because the global changes that are happening in our economy as a result of the response to climate change that have a real impact.”
“The plan that I am taking forward together with my colleagues is about ensuring that our regions are strong, that our region’s jobs are not only protected but have opportunities for the future.”
“It is not just about hitting net zero – that is an important environmental goal – what is important is that Australia’s economy goes from strength to strength.”
Morrison has known for some time (Treasury would have told him) that Australia will become a pariah to international capital if we don’t not join the mob on climate action, and that Australia’s economy will benefit if we do.
Morrison also knows that while the majority of the Nationals will go for a net zero by 2050 target, a bunch of them, mostly from Queensland, would cross the floor rather than vote for such a policy. He can’t commit formally to a concrete target, because a minority of the Nationals won’t let him.
Morrison has been making a virtue of process, saying we’ll do net zero when it suits us. Hence national interest trumps the needs of the planet and all life that dwells upon it.
Writing after on Sunday night, the circuit-breaker is cash, truckloads of it, as Phillip Coorey reports in Nationals to get billions for net zero – “tens of billions” for infrastructure and communications.
- “They won’t say ‘no’ because they’ll get no cash, and they won’t say ‘yes’ [straight away] because they’ll get no cash,” said a source familiar with the majority view of the Nationals.
The formal answer was that the Nationals want more detail, before signing onto net zero by 2050, but there was a flat “no” to lifting ambition on the 2030 targets.
Angus Taylor was chirpy after the meeting where he spoke much of the new technologies of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage:
He said the conversation was constructive and collegiate and “there was a strong joint commitment to policies that strengthen our regions, not weaken them”.
“It was also clear that there was absolutely no appetite for policies that impact jobs or add to cost of living through an explicit carbon tax or a sneaky carbon tax. Which we won’t be doing.”
The latter was a reference to the Safeguard Mechanism whereby Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters keep their net emissions below a specified emissions limit, or offset emissions by buying carbon credits.
The baseline was meant to be progressively lowered, but under the Coalition it wasn’t. The firm Extante Data has calculated that only around 1 million tonnes of CO2-e has been abated that way since inception in mid-2016.
This leaves Morrison with a number of problems.
First, he is committed to the Gas-fired recovery, which includes unlocking five key gas basins, starting with the Beetaloo Basin in the NT and the North Bowen and Galilee Basin in Queensland.
This is completely incompatible with net-zero by 2050. Why use gas as a transition fuel when renewables, firmed by batteries, pumped hydro and demand response, are cheaper and more reliable than gas?
Second, he is committed to five technologies for clean energy investment – clean hydrogen, energy storage, low carbon steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon.
‘Clean’ hydrogen, means, in the first instance dirty hydrogen, known as ‘blue’ hydrogen, made from gas. Blue hydrogen is dirtier than gas.
Third, great emphasis is being placed on what we do this decade, as 1.5℃ is likely to be reached by the early to mid-2030s. So we should have no new gas or coal development, and phase out fossil fuel power at least by 2030.
Fourth, Trust has become a crucial element. Morrison has demonstrated to us over and over again that he simply cannot be trusted. Furthermore in deliberately and overtly misleading the France, has shown that his word in not his bond, and that he can’t be trusted to uphold any agreement, formal or not. In other areas of activity, he has shown the laws, rules, and agreements mean nothing to him.
Further, on trust, Angus Taylor has shown that he is thoroughly untrustworthy. No-one knows what he plans to do in relation to emissions reduction and energy, perhaps not even Taylor himself. If we judge him by his works, why would he spend $600 million on a gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri which appears to be completely useless, even for its stated purpose.
The real purpose may well be to disrupt AGL’s original plans to replace Liddell coal-fired power station, which earned praise from independent commentators. If so he has succeeded.
So where does this leave us?
Bill Hare has led an analysis that shows Australia will probably reach its 28-30% reduction target, but largely through the efforts of the states. The Commonwealth has barely lifted a finger. Hare says their study offers:
a 1.5℃-compatible pathway, involving domestic emissions reduction to at least 65-75% below 2005 levels by 2030, and substantial increases in international climate finance.
The Climate Council, in responding to the latest IPCC AR6 report says:
Based on the latest science, and taking into account Australia’s national circumstances, the Climate Council has concluded that Australia should reduce its emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve net zero emissions by 2035. (Emphasis in original)
- There is no room for any new fossil fuel developments – including gas – if we’re to avoid catastrophic warming.
That’s what the science is telling them, and they have a few scientists in their team.
It was always part of the story that if the world is to reach net zero by 2050, then the developed countries, who made most of the mess, should get there earlier.
The Australia Institute say Net zero emissions by 2050 a fraud without transition from fossil fuels. The Government is planning new gas which will add two-thirds to our emissions profile, plus 23 new coal mine proposals in NSW alone, and more.
- While a net zero by 2050 announcement from the Government may be coming, all signs show that the Government has no plan or intention to achieve this target. Key policies are completely incongruent with such a target, working to increase rather than decrease emissions.
In political terms there is every prospect that Morrison will find the Coalition wedged, with city voters unhappy about their failure to come to terms with the existential threat of climate change.
As Jennifer Hewett said a couple of weeks ago, the Nationals [are stabbing the] Liberals in the front on climate:
As Mazengrab pointed out moderate Liberals such as Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma, Josh Frydenberg Tim Wilson and others now face serious election challenges from pro-climate action independent candidates.
For now, as Federal Parliament returns, Tingle notes that the Nationals in a room somewhere will make the final decision. Never has parliament as a forum for national debate seemed more redundant.
Update: See comment October 19, 2021 at 10:11 am.