It is a massive failure that the Morrison government made an eleven-hour commitment to net-zero by 2050.
Critics correctly point out that the government’s plan includes no increase in Australia’s 2030 climate goal, no new funding or policy and very few details about reducing emissions – other than a heavy reliance upon technological solutions not yet developed.
We know that the future is not bright. The fossil fuel industry will continue to operate for many decades despite the questionable subsidization of carbon capture and storage technologies. It is not clear how these jobs will be created or how they will be financed. There is no plan to legislate for the reductions in carbon emissions.
The most obvious gap is the failure to address Australia’s largest contribution to climate change, coal, gas and oil production. The government’s slogan, “technology, not taxes,” ignores that taxpayers will be responsible for a multi-billion-dollar bill to reduce emissions.
Exports are the only way to get a net-zero
The government’s plan does not contain any credible strategy to reduce Australia’s enormous fossil fuel industry emissions, particularly in the export sector.
Since 2005, Australia’s exports of fossil fuels have more than doubled. We are the largest exporter of metallurgical co and third in exports of fossil fuels overall.
Australia’s export fossil fuels cause more emissions than Australia’s domestic.
In 2020, the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions were 494 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Using the standard conversion factors, my calculations showed that only export coal and LNG emitted 1,073,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is higher than the 2019-2022 forest fires.
An abrogation is a net-zero plan that does not include a strategy for phasing out this huge contribution to climate change.
Australia is not responsible for the emission of exported fossil fuels. However, other countries use them. Australia must still take great responsibility for the billions in subsidies and the environmental approvals that allow this industry to continue.
Global warming is being exacerbated by the supply of cheap and subsidized fossil fuels.
The government is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about how to reduce domestic emissions, the government should ask: What is Australia’s contribution to climate change? This must be addressed, given that Australia’s combined emissions of exported fossil fuels and domestic emissions account for 34% of global emissions.
There is strong evidence that Australia’s fossil fuel industry will continue receiving strong support.
The net-zero plan involves directing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to finance carbon capture and storage technologies. This is the process of capturing carbon from the source and placing it in the ground. It will allow more taxpayer dollars to be channeled into the fossil fuel sector.
The federal government grants approvals to new fossil fuel developments that will produce millions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This includes three brand new coal mines and a major gas power plant in Kurri Kurri, in the Hunter Valley.
These actions do not reflect a genuine commitment to reducing Australia’s climate change contribution.
Technology via taxation
The government’s plan will support the fossil fuel industry, which means that the government’s slogan of “technology not tax” is misleading.
In the new government plan, A$20 billion is to be spent by taxpayers on new technologies. The tax system will pay for climate action. Taxation revenue is used to pay for subsidies for fossil fuel production and the development of low-emission technologies.
Many policies can shift the burden of climate change action from taxpayers to the responsible companies. This could include legislating carbon pricing or extracting the historical, social costs of carbon from large polluters.
However, we all know that the Coalition scrapped Gillard’s carbon pricing in 2014. This policy is now considered political poison.
Individual taxpayers make up the bulk of federal tax revenue. ExxonMobil and Shell, two of the largest fossil fuel exporters, have paid little or no corporate taxes. They will not be required to pay for their pollution under the Morrison plan.
The plan is delaying climate action
This plan’s timing is also seriously flawed. Even with Australia’s (not legally mandated) reduction in 30-35% emissions by 2030, this still leaves about 70% of the emission reductions to occur after 2030. The proportions should be reversed, given the urgency of this problem.
According to a briefing note published Monday by the ARC Centre of Excellence by Australian climate scientists, even if global emissions reach net-zero by mid-century, temperatures will still exceed 2100 if there is no short-term increase in action.
Our per capita CO2 equivalent emissions of 22 tonnes are twice the OECD average. This makes Australia’s weak targets even more problematic. Australia’s history of high emissions, both domestically and internationally, means that we should be at the top of the list, not the bottom.
Australia is in a dire situation on the eve of COP26 negotiations. We can join the climate ambitious and develop a plan with substantial interim targets. We can also join the likes of Saudi Arabia to delay further action.
We cannot pretend to be climate activists while at the same time being one of the largest coal exporters in the world – pretending that it does not contribute to climate change.