The Nationals finally agree to a 2050 net-zero target …

… but the real decisions on Australia’s emissions are happening elsewhere. That’s the title of my latest piece in The Conversation. Key paras

The Morrison government, partly through its own doing, has almost no control over Australia’s emissions trajectory. The real decisions on that are being made elsewhere – by state governments and civil society, or outside the country altogether.

Morrison’s last-minute reach for a 2050 net-zero target is almost entirely symbolic, as was the Nationals’ resistance to it.

21 thoughts on “The Nationals finally agree to a 2050 net-zero target …

  1. “But the Morrison government has little influence over global technological progress.” True. However, Australia has punched above its weight on some of the science. I’m no expert. but off the top of my head I can think of:
    – Martin Green´s decades of work improving solar PV
    – Andrew Blakers’ global atlas for pumped hydro storage sites
    – Emma Lovell’s and Ali Jalili’s imvention of a route to ammonia synthesis using plasma reactors
    – and our esteemed host´s early and combative stance for taking climate damage seriously, when it was very much a minority position among rated economists.
    Well done, some of you Aussies.

  2. I’m a bit dubious as there needs to be an agreed plan from 2021 to 2050 with enforceable checkpoints along the way. Failure to meet targets is not an option as is endlessly granting new coal mines while claiming to meet and beat goals

  3. Morrison makes a net zero commitment just before Glasgow. Saudi Arabia has announced net zero by 2060. Turkey ratified the Paris Accord earlier this month. Russia has announced a goal of reducing carbon intensity- benchmarked on 1990, the last year of Gosplan

    There is a pattern here. “Hypocrisy is vice’s tribute to virtue” – La Rochefoucauld. The leaders of these countries are of course cynical and untrustworthy, and their promises cannot b relied on. But making them makes a real difference. They have all concluded that hey can no longer get away with outright denialism, and lip service to climate mitigationhas become essential. This will increasingly crimp their real freedom of action.

    Why? No doubt it’s a mixture of motives, in different proportions for each: realpolitik and realeknomik, in the face of actors like the USA, the EU, and green investment funds who can exact a real political or economic price for climate inaction; growing domestic pressure from their streets; national policy establishments coalescing round the new CW; and – I suspect – fear of ridicule on the world stage, not from fringe hecklers but from fellow Davos Men.

  4. I’m cynical enough to think the insincerity of this conversion isn’t a failure of communication, it is a feature. The Nats got gifted with a fierce opponent of the shift away from fossil fuels being appointed to a portfolio with a responsibility to manage the shift away from fossil fuels. Like every other Ministry where the climate issue count Mr Morrison has appointed opponents of the objective to administer their “commitment”. I think I have grounds to be cynical.

    Akarog, I would trade all the legislated targets and “enforceable” checkpoints for a modicum of trust that whoever are in government are cognizant of the scope and severity of the problem and sincere about maximising Australia’s contributions to global solutions to it. Nothing that is legislated is immune from repeal.

  5. On a closely related issue – they are talking up green hydrogen as the saviour of my home town (Gladstone, central QLD) once coal finally goes the way of the dinosaur, as it ultimately must.

    We already have one 30 year old white elephant here in the form of a “pilot” shale oil plant (a rather old pilot by now) which seems to be little more than a tax dodge. I’m wondering what will prevent green hydrogen from turning out the same way.

    I don’t think I’ve yet seen the fundamental issue acknowledged anywhere – that of comparative advantage. The coal mining industry exists here in central QLD for the simple reason that there are vast deposits of high-quality coal in the ground here. Many other countries don’t have enough of their own. And you can’t just pick up a coal deposit, drop it down in a developing country and proceed to mine it at Third-World costs and wages. Those wanting it have had to pay us for it.

    But as I understand it, you CAN do just that with hydrogen. There are no geologically-restricted hydrogen deposits.

    Why won’t hydrogen production simply fly to the developing world where production will be the cheapest?

    Instead of us exporting to the world as is being talked up, why won’t developing countries simply export it back to us for cheaper than we can produce it here?

    None of this is to suggest that we don’t need to stop emitting carbon as soon as possible or that fossil fuels are not going to die out. I just tend to suspect that the industry’s big backer – Twiggy Forrest – is just looking for government handouts and that the ultimate result will be that rather than developing a large industry to export hydrogen to the world, we end up importing from others instead.

  6. and on top of that, “ye olde voter fraud scam” means no ID no vote.

    it’s like a template from god, via evilangelism.

    i know, i know, but i couldn’t help it, as said before,

    i’m prone to smartarsery.

  7. The lack of basic honesty, during the past 35 years, really doesn’t place the Nationals at the forefront of climate policy. Instead, it reveals that a very small cabal of our population can hold the rest of us hostage, and there is nary a thing we can do about it. It’s not like I can vote against a National Party member, given I don’t live in such an electorate to begin with. As for the LNP policy, it’s a question of bluff, putting something in front of the international community, so we can avoid total disdain, and pretend we are doing something. It’s the same game we’ve seen a million times before, every LNP government back as far as Fraser. At least Fraser had the intellectual honesty to shift his views as he got older. Turnbull tried, and got toppled for his efforts. Apart from those instances, the intellectual underpinnings of LNP climate policies have been risible. I’d say more about ALP, except they didn’t (have the numbers) to achieve much in the approx. 35 years since they did the first Aussie climate conference, 1987/1988, and anyway, it was initially an academic conference (Dr Pearman). Still, the ALP have at least had some serious policy plans for addressing our contributions to AGW, which is rather more than could be said for the LNP—except in the negative sense.

  8. Keith Pitt – ““We’ve looked at the International Energy Agency forecast […] they’re saying there’ll be continued increases in demand for thermal coal out to about 2030, and I expect it to drop off peak by about 2050 by around 20 per cent.”

    It appears that Mr Pitt LIKES that there will be ONLY a 20% reduction of demand for thermal coal by the time we are supposed to reach zero emissions and shows zero indication he would prefer that reaches 100% and work to achieve it. The climate change problem, to these dangerously irresponsible deniers and delayers, is about saving fossil fuels FROM strong climate policies, not about reining in emissions and regaining climate stability.

    Perhaps the economic arguments – minus any concern for climate harms – will move some of the LNP. And it is possible that some really do accept that it is needful to act early. That the climate problem itself apparently cannot inspire them to repudiate people like Keith Pitt and Barnaby Joyce is deeply dismaying.

  9. mrkenfabian.
    I think Keith Pitt misrepresents the IEA when he says “We’ve looked at the International Energy Agency forecast…” THE IEA DOES NOT DO FORECASTS. For example, the IEA says (bold text my emphasis):

    The World Energy Outlook does not provide a forecast of what will happen. Instead, it provides a set of scenarios that explore different possible futures, the actions – or inactions – that bring them about and the interconnections between different parts of the system.

    https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2019

    The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, revised edition published Oct 2021, includes on page 13:

    In this Summary for Policy Makers, we outline the essential conditions for the global energy sector to reach net‐zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The pathway described in depth in this report achieves this objective with no offsets from outside the energy sector, and with low reliance on negative emissions technologies. It is designed to maximise technical feasibility, cost‐effectiveness and social acceptance while ensuring continued economic growth and secure energy supplies. We highlight the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net zero by 2050 – narrow but still achievable – is not lost. The report provides a global view, but countries do not start in the same place or finish at the same time: advanced economies have to reach net zero before emerging markets and developing economies, and assist others in getting there. We also recognise that the route mapped out here is a path, not necessarily the path, and so we examine some key uncertainties, notably concerning the roles played by bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes. Getting to net zero will involve countless decisions by people across the world, but our primary aim is to inform the decisions made by policy makers, who have the greatest scope to move the world closer to its climate goals.

    The PRIORITY ACTION box on page 14 begins with:

    All the technologies needed to achieve the necessary deep cuts in global emissions by 2030 already exist, and the policies that can drive their deployment are already proven.

    As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of the Covid‐19 pandemic, it is essential that the resulting wave of investment and spending to support economic recovery is aligned with the net zero pathway. Policies should be strengthened to speed the deployment of clean and efficient energy technologies. Mandates and standards are vital to drive consumer spending and industry investment into the most efficient technologies. Targets and competitive auctions can enable wind and solar to accelerate the electricity sector transition. Fossil fuel subsidy phase‐outs, carbon pricing and other market reforms can ensure appropriate price signals. Policies should limit or provide disincentives for the use of certain fuels and technologies, such as unabated coal‐fired power stations, gas boilers and conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. Governments must lead the planning and incentivising of the massive infrastructure investment, including in smart transmission and distribution grids.

    The IEA says that by 2035: A rapid shift away from fossil fuels:Net zero means huge declines in the use of coal, oil and gas. This requires steps such as halting sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035, and phasing out all unabated coal and oil power plants by 2040.
    https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

    IMO, the IEA completely contradicts what Keith Pitt reportedly claims that: “there’ll be continued increases in demand for thermal coal out to about 2030, and I expect it to drop off peak by about 2050 by around 20 per cent.

  10. Keith Pitt is currently the Federal Member for Hinkler in Queensland.

    The AEC 2017 south-east Queensland Federal electorate boundary map for Blair, Groom, Hinkler, Wide Bay and Wright can be viewed here: https://www.aec.gov.au/electorates/redistributions/2017/qld/final-report/files/maps-divisions/aec-2018-qld-se-queensland.pdf

    The AEC 2017 Queensland Federal electorate boundary map for Capricornia, Dawson, Flynn, Herbert, Kennedy, Leichardt and Maranoa can be viewed here: https://www.aec.gov.au/electorates/redistributions/2017/qld/final-report/files/maps-divisions/aec-2018-qld-queensland.pdf

    I’d suggest Keith Pitt’s (and some other Queensland politicians’) advocacy for more fossil fuels are assisting to facilitate their electorates becoming much hotter by 2070 – see the Mean Annual Temperature map for RCP8.5 scenario by 2070: https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350#F3

    It seems to me, per the Mean Annual Temperature map, large parts of electorates Leichardt (current incumbent is Warren Entsch MP) and Kennedy (current incumbent is Bob Katter MP) would likely be unlivable by 2070.

  11. Geoff – so Mr Pitt misreads and misrepresents the IEA reports? No surprise; the real surprise is that he reads them at all. Unless someone else reads them and provides his take home talking points, without risk of exposing himself to sources of information that might cause him to re-evaluate his position. Which treats global failure to reduce fossil fuel dependence as a good thing. This is someone who will be appointed to develop and administer the Morrison government’s zero emissions “policy”.

    I suppose I should see it as a step forward that such people now feel they need to SAY they support zero emissions, even insincerely, except in political integrity terms it looks like a serious backwards one, that does not auger well for good governance. Which seems like a fundamental element to addressing this problem. Personal opinion – corruption, not lack of appropriate and cost effective technology is the greatest impediment to effective climate action.

    I don’t know what kinds of climate change facilitated weather catastrophes would be capable of undercutting the fundamental denial of the National voter base. Heatwaves of extreme intensity, that destroy crops and kill livestock? Worse droughts and fires haven’t done it, and I doubt anything not local won’t count.

    The fundamental denial, whilst rarely on public display, remains abundantly clear.

  12. mrkenfabian: – “Geoff – so Mr Pitt misreads and misrepresents the IEA reports? No surprise; the real surprise is that he reads them at all. Unless someone else reads them and provides his take home talking points, without risk of exposing himself to sources of information that might cause him to re-evaluate his position.

    The Keith Pitt quote you referenced earlier apparently comes from a podcast, from around time interval 09:12, at: politics-with-michelle-grattan-keith-pitt-on-the-climate-plan-and-coals-future-170720

    Why aren’t journalists, like Michelle Grattan, for example, checking what the IEA reports actually state and challenge people, like Mr Pitt, asserting what the IEA says? Or alternatively, report the apparent contradictions between what some people. like Mr Pitt, may assert the IEA presents and what the IEA actually presents?

    I think many journalists are doing us/society a critical disservice.

  13. One thing the other G20 countries can do in response to Morrison’s magic technology cargo cult is to take him at his word. “So you are betting big on new technology for carbon removal. Fine, we are all going to need this. We are happy for Australia to take the lead on this part of the portfolio. You put up $500m over the next 5 years for R&D on carbon sequestration, and we’ll match it”.

    Not very likely perhaps, but clearly nobody has been taken in apart from a few credulous Aussie voters. They may be less credulous when the jobs start going. China has kept up its embargo on Australian coal imports during a painful spike in coal demand, supply issues from Indonesia, Mongolia and Russia, and damaging local shortages. They are not going to relent when things return to normal, and BHP for one has recognised this. The magic new technology cannot arrive in time.

  14. @James Wimberly – from here at one of Australia’s biggest coal export terminals (Gladstone, QLD)……..coal exports have been booming the entire time.

    I’m not saying this to be a smart arse or to deny the need to de-carbonize civilization – I’m saying it because I know it to be true. On any given day I can go to the headland at Tannum Sands and look out to sea past the entrance to Gladstone harbour and see a line of bulk carriers stretching to the horizon. Some are here for LNG, bauxite or alumina but many are here for coal.

    I have relatives in management at the Port Authority – what appears to be happening is a lot of spot buying of coal cargoes, which are then in turn bought by China. They currently cannot do without our coal and given the frosty relations between our two countries, doing it this way allows them to save face – a very important concept in China.

    Our coal exports to China have effectively not fallen at all.

    Yet.

  15. James Wimberley: – “China has kept up its embargo on Australian coal imports during a painful spike in coal demand, supply issues from Indonesia, Mongolia and Russia, and damaging local shortages.

    Not so per Reuters on Oct 5:

    China is releasing Australian coal from bonded storage, despite a nearly year-long unofficial import ban on the fuel, as it scrambles to ease a national power crunch stemming from a coal shortage, traders familiar with the matter said.

    https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/china-turns-stranded-australian-coal-combat-power-crunch-trade-2021-10-05/

    James Wimberly: – “The magic new technology cannot arrive in time.

    On US gas shale plays, petroleum geologist Art Berman tweeted on Oct 29 (with graph):

    Only Haynesville and Permian production is increasing.
    Other shale gas plays are flat or declining. The problem is capital not geology.

    And on US tight oil plays, Art Berman also tweeted (with graph):

    Only Permian production is increasing. Other tight oil plays are flat or declining. The problem is capital not geology.

    Few of these US oil and gas plays have actually provided ANY cash flow – they’ve mainly lost money for investors. Is it any wonder investors are wary of putting more money into ‘money pits’?

    Increasing oil and gas demand as countries come out of confinement from the pandemic will likely only increase energy prices. Yep, new technology at large scale cannot arrive in time.

  16. Jason – “Some are here for LNG, bauxite or alumina but many are here for coal….” – but not for much longer to ship it to China. Japan has been talking about opening a string of new coal fired power stations though. For now it’s in the death throws:

    Metals complex massacred as Chinese coal bubble bursts – October 28, 2021
    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2021/10/metals-complex-massacred-as-chinese-coal-bubble-bursts/
    China coal futures slump as govt announces ‘clean-up’ of illegal storage sites – October 27, 2021
    https://finance.yahoo.com/news/china-state-planner-conducts-clean-022202936.html

    Global energy bubble deflates – October 29, 2021
    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2021/10/global-energy-bubble-deflates/
    “The breathtaking adjustment in Chinese energy has continued with thermal coal thumped again yesterday ..We’re going back to $100 and below next year, in my view.”

    Iron ore, coking coal resume crash – October 29, 2021
    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2021/10/iron-ore-coking-coal-resume-crash/

    Geoff – “Yep, new technology at large scale cannot arrive in time.”

    Cannot or won’t:

    Buenos Aires Times, ECONOMY, 15-10-2021
    Argentina at crossroads over the future of its lithium sector
    Fernández administration wants to boost the state’s role in lithium extraction and electromobility, but conflicts with local communities remain.
    by Javier Lewkowicz, an Argentine journalist who writes on China and the environment. He writes on Página/12 and Diálogo Chino, among others.
    https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/economy/argentina-at-crossroads-over-the-future-of-its-lithium-sector.phtml
    “…Argentina is facing a dilemma over the future of its lithium. President Alberto Fernández and his government want to boost the sector’s development, and for the state to play a prominent role in both the extraction of the mineral and the development of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs). However, social and environmental tensions over such ambitions remain.
    …The salt flats of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile account for almost 60 percent of global lithium resources. Argentina is home to nine percent of the world’s total reserves – resources whose exploitation has been proven to be viable in technical and economic terms – and these are the third-largest behind Chile and Australia.”

    But:

    CNN Business, October 30, 2021
    Here to stay or gone in 30 years? Inside the fight over the future of the oil industry
    By Julia Horowitz
    https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/30/energy/oil-companies-aberdeen-cop26/index.html
    “Driving that spending is forecasts for demand through 2050. In a report earlier this month, the IEA said that if countries live up to current climate pledges, limiting warming to 2.1 degrees Celsius, demand for fossil fuels will peak around 2025. But even under that scenario, the world will still be consuming 75 million barrels of oil per day by 2050 — just 25 million barrels per day less than today.

  17. Very cynically, I think it is because NEW technology at large scale cannot arrive any time soon is a large part of what makes it attractive to the climate recalcitrant LNP and their doubters, deniers and delayers – it kicks the can down the road. As far as I can see the principle “investment” in technology will be or will require CCS – that aside from being ineffective and impossible to do at sufficient scale, diverts taxpayer funding away from renewable technology that works now to fossil fuel companies to do greenwash that won’t work ever.

    Meanwhile investment in existing (but still improving) renewable technologies is quite feasible and would make a big difference very quickly – perhaps not before next election quickly, but it would have been if begun just a few months ago, around the time that Morrison’s team realised they were in a corner and had to move to a pretence of supporting clean energy over fossil fuels. Hornsdale reserve took under 6mths.

    $600M for one Kurri Kurri gas power plant would buy >6 Big Batteries (of Hornsdale Reserve size) outright and perhaps (at 20% subsidy as incentive) induce investment in >30 Big batteries. I don’t know what the total this government already has committed to CCS and dirty Hydrogen with CCS to make it clean or how much new funding might come with it’s net zero “pledge” but surely it is enough for a LOT more than 30 Big Batteries, that would support a LOT more wind and solar than we have now and make investing in coal or gas plants – new or existing – unnecessary for the energy security reasons they have retreated to as justification.

    I would like to think Labor will show genuine commitment and ambition on The Transition but frankly I remain doubtful they will do more than match the bid then offer a token extra dollar. The LNP will hope it’s insincerity is clearly heard by their deniers and shore up votes but I don’t think that can work the other way around for Labor – to. outwardly have low ambition and expect the climate concerned voters to believe they will do A LOT MORE than they are prepared to say.

  18. Svante: – “Cannot or won’t…

    The accumulating evidence I see suggests: cannot.

    From Drive:

    Financial traders in America and Europe are predicting that the price of crude oil will continue to rise from current highs of around $86 a barrel, possibly exceeding $US200 a barrel by the end of 2022.

    While the crude oil price is not the sole factor in pump prices, it does have a major influence. If crude oil prices continue to rise, petrol prices will be forced to follow, say the experts.

    If this happens, Australian motorists could see prices for regular unleaded petrol close to $2 by Christmas and possibly even $3 in late-2022, adding approximately $3000 a year to the two-car family’s fuel bill.

    https://www.drive.com.au/news/fuel-prices-at-record-highs/

    Peak oil never went away. See Figure 5 in: https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2020/11/16/peak-oil-never-went-away/

    I doubt EV production can ramp-up fast enough now to significantly mitigate what’s coming.

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