Australia Sets Net-Zero Goal But Sees Future for Fossil Fuels
(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s Prime Minister finally agreed to a plan to zero out its carbon emissions by 2050, but said he wouldn’t enshrine the target in law, and would continue to rely on fossil fuels and projects designed to offset planet-warming pollution.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the target days before he’s scheduled to head to Europe for G-20 talks and then the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. It follows a new round of fractious domestic debate on climate policy, an issue that’s riven Australia’s politics for more than a decade and comes after pressure from allies including the U.S. to show more urgency in action to limit global warming.
“We will set a target to achieve net zero by 2050, and have a clear plan for achieving it,” Morrison said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia. The Australian Way is all about how you do it, and not if you do it. It’s about getting it done.”
Despite the headline target, Bill Hare, chief executive officer of Climate Analytics, said Morrison’s plan would only reduce emissions 65% to 73% by 2050. Additional savings delivered through “land sector sequestration & targeted purchases of international offsets” would reach an 85% cut. The plan also heavily relies on technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which would allow Australia to continue burning fossil fuels, but are still too expensive to be rolled out widely, he said.
“Morrison’s plan changes nothing in Australia’s policy settings,” said Hare. “It’s a very glossy and slick advertising move with no substance,” and appears to go along with the government’s current strategy of replacing coal with subsidized natural gas, he said.
The government will stick with its 2030 goals that have been criticized by activists and business leaders alike as too weak, adding to the sense that timid pledges from developed nations are stifling prospects for major progress at the climate talks. His government also refused to put the target into law as other countries have done.
While Australia is the latest in a string of countries to set mid-century net-zero goals, the Paris Agreement is focused on the shorter term. The deal requires countries to set targets for the end of this decade in order to encourage investment in green technologies. The United Nations yesterday said those plans are still too weak and that the world remains on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius of global warming compared to pre-industrial levels.
Meet and Beat
Morrison on Tuesday reiterated that Australia was on track to “meet and beat” its target, forecasting a cut of as much as 35% by 2030 from 2005 levels compared with the official commitment for a 26-28% reduction.
“Investors are ready to invest billions, not millions, in Australia’s transition to net zero,” Rebecca Mikula-Wright, the chief executive officer of the Investor Group on Climate Change, said in a statement. “Australia not updating its 2030 target in line with commitments under the Paris Agreements is of deep concern to investors.”
Australia is one of the top suppliers of fossil fuels, and the sector accounts for almost a quarter of its export earnings. The nation is being looked at to help show leadership that’ll encourage developing countries to step up their efforts. Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter, on Saturday pledged to a goal to hit net zero by 2060.
Morrison has frequently ruled out taxes for polluters, and backed the country’s top emitters to devise the best solutions to help Australia hit net zero. On Tuesday, he said new coal-fired power stations could still potentially be built under his plan, with the fuel responsible for the bulk of the nation’s electricity generation.
While every Australian state and territory -- and key trading partners China, Japan and South Korea -- have committed to net-zero emissions, a national target was politically complicated for Morrison, who must hold elections by May and trails the main Labor opposition in opinion polls.
Lawmakers within the National Party, the junior member of Australia’s governing coalition, raised concerns over the threat to rural jobs, particularly in coal-mining communities, from an energy transition and demanded a series of concessions in return for their support.
The Australian newspaper reported that the Nationals had received a guarantee that the government would take no action to pursue a methane target. The U.S. and the European Union have been seeking to use COP26 to announce that at least 35 countries joined a global pact to cut methane emissions. Scientists find that reduction of the super-warming pollutant could be the quickest and cheapest way to slow down climate change.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.