A pleasant surprise, for once

Labor’s commitment to a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent is a pleasant surprise. I expected 35 per cent and was confident it wouldn’t be more than 40.

In essence, the 43 per cent target a restatement of the goal taken to the 2019 election. The difference is within the margin of measurement error and appears to reflect the need not to reannounce a policy that had previously been abandoned.

The commitment is a surprise because it follows a series of announcements which ruled out most of the obvious policy options to reduce emissions, including a carbon price, a moratorium on new coal, oil and gas projects. Recent reports also said that Labor would reject the idea of a vehicle fuel efficiency target.

The announcement of the target reduction gave no indication of how Labor plans to reach it. Action already taken by state governments, business and the general public seems likely to achieve a 30-35 per cent reduction, primarily from the decarbonization of electricity generation. Where will the rest of the reductions come from.

There’s room to speed up the electricity transition, for example through a new Renewable Energy Target. Labor has also foreshadowed an expansion of the “safeguards” mechanism for industrial emissions introduced by the current government, covering more firms and lowering the current cap. There may also be some room to move on land use, although that is the kind of politically contentious policy Labor has been at pains to avoid in recent times.

Finally, there’s transport. Unless we move rapidly to an electrification of the vehicle fleet, transport emissions will continue to grow. It’s hard to see how this can be achieved without a vehicle fuel efficiency target. In 2019, Labor promised to consult with industry about such a target, but recent reports have suggested that the coming policy statement will rule this out. This would be big mistake.

36 thoughts on “A pleasant surprise, for once

  1. Couldn’t they achieve a decent effect on transport emissions with a subsidy (which probably polls well) rather than a target (which is undoubtedly better policy)?

  2. I think a prospective Australian government would gain votes by saying: “We are going to join Europe and the USA in setting real emissions mitigation targets and having a real plan to get there. The LNP want to ignore Europe, the USA and much of the rest of the world. In that case, massive trade sanctions against Australia would be certain. Such sanctions would of course completely destroy the Australian economy. We are certain people do not want that and that is why our policy is… etc. etc.”

  3. JQ: – “Unless we move rapidly to an electrification of the vehicle fleet, transport emissions will continue to grow. It’s hard to see how this can be achieved without a vehicle fuel efficiency target.

    I’d suggest a vehicle fuel efficiency target is now too little, too late. Two reasons:

    Reason 1: If Goehring & Rozencwajg (or Morgan Stanley) are anywhere near close to their projections on running out of spare production capacity by late next year, or even if the timing is up to a few years later, it’s already all too late. The era of cheap, abundant oil is at an end. Fuel efficiency won’t make a difference in a sustained global oil production decline regime.

    Reason 2: Human-induced GHG emissions must come down ASAP. Replacing less fuel efficient ICEVs with marginally better ones just delays the full decarbonisation of transport by decades. ICEVs must be phased out ASAP, replaced by zero emissions vehicles, wherever possible.

  4. Geoff Miell, we want oil production and consumption to decline as fast as possible. Why are you presenting higher production costs as if it is a bad thing?

  5. JQ: – “Why are you presenting higher production costs as if it is a bad thing?

    Energy is the economy. Human civilisation, as it is currently configured, I’d suggest comprehensively relies on petroleum fuels as the principal source of energy. High prices for petroleum fuels means producing nearly everything becomes high cost, and economies stall.

    Unless there are viable low cost technology alternatives deployed in sufficient numbers to make a significant change to the way economies function, then higher oil prices are bad for the economy. The trick is to get alternative affordable technologies that displace petroleum-dependency deployed ASAP before the inevitable sustained global oil production decline regime hits in earnest.

  6. Removal of FBT on electric vehicles will have a big effect on passenger vehicles.

    Fleets and salary-sacrificing employees will lap it up.

    In our household, it has turned the conversation from considering EV next turnover to a definite.

    Yes, it’s a bonus to people relatively well off and above, but to get the necessary changeover of the national fleet, this will deliver substantial numbers of 2nd hand EV’s to market in 3-5 years as well as reducing the number of new ICE vehicles hitting the streets in the meantime.

  7. But if you reduce overall costs, but put taxes on hydrocarbons, that combination should achieve the goals we are after. Supposing you closed a lot of public service jobs out, in favour of a UBI. And perhaps find a way to do that for big business also. (So much fat in these big companies now. Like a new public service) So you are reducing overhead. Then you can increase the tax free threshold. But you combine that with severe taxes on petrol and slowly amp up the taxes on diesel as well. Slowly slowly. Then surely these combinations will get us where we need to go.

  8. JQ: – “… we want oil production and consumption to decline as fast as possible.

    Yep – IMO it can’t happen fast enough.

    Meanwhile, posted at ABC.net.au last night was a piece by David Sparkes headlined Shortage of urea, used to make diesel anti-pollution additive AdBlue, threatens to grind Australia to a halt, transport industry warns, that included:

    “In most of the modern diesels, there’s a chemical added to the system called AdBlue,” Warren Clark, from the National Road Transport Association, told the ABC.

    “A lot of the AdBlue, or the chemical that goes into making it, is imported from China.

    “The supply of that chemical urea has dried up from China. And hence, there’s now a massive shortage of AdBlue In this country.”


    It seems high gas prices are the reason behind the shortages of AdBlue in Europe, and this is probably having a knock-on effect globally. From a Trans.info post, dated Oct 21:

    AdBlue is used in vehicles with a Selective Catalytic Reduction catalyst, or SCR. When driving a vehicle using AdBlue, the driver gets a message on the dashboard if AdBlue needs to be topped up – a too low AdBlue level may prevent the vehicle from starting.

    As a large proportion of the heavy-duty vehicles complying with the Euro 4, Euro 5 and Euro 6 standards are equipped with an SCR system and therefore use AdBlue, needless to say, the shortage of the additive is more than worrying for carriers.


  9. Geoff, can you tell us how to enable the trick?

    “The trick is to get alternative affordable technologies that displace petroleum-dependency deployed ASAP before the inevitable sustained global oil production decline regime hits in earnest.”

  10. We can say how its not going to happen. Its not going to happen with batteries. Since the energy density of diesel is about forty times better per weight than the weight of a battery.

  11. Oh, by the way people, you DO NOT add Ad-blue to your diesel fuel tank. If you do that you destroy your engine.

    “Typically, (some) modern diesels utilize a treatment system called Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). The SCR blends the AdBlue with the engine’s exhaust gases, which creates a chemical reaction, to convert nitrogen oxides (NOx) into nitrogen, water and carbon dioxide (CO2). As a result, the gases emitted are less harmful to the environment and our health.

    Similar to refilling your diesel tank, there will be an AdBlue filler cap somewhere on your car. The location of the filler nozzle varies from car-to-car, so we would recommend checking your vehicle’s handbook.” – Stratstone.

    I’m sure people know… but just in case. It;s a separate tank and the stuff goes straight to the SCR and exhaust gases, NOT through your engine.

  12. Savonarola: Funny that legacy truckmakers Volvo Trucks (includes Mack), Daimler (includes Mercedes and Freightliner) and VW (includes Scania), as well as a number of new entrants like BYD and Tesla, don’t agree with you, and that China has essentially switched its urban bus fleet (n>400,000) to battery-electric traction. You don’t cite a source for your numbers, so I don’t feel obliged to believe you. But your metric is wrong anyway. You have to look at the weight of the whole powertrain plus the fuel store, and electric motors are much lighter and more flexible than comparable diesel engines, with their associated gearboxes and cooling systems.

  13. “Savonarola: Funny that legacy truckmakers Volvo Trucks (includes Mack), Daimler (includes Mercedes and Freightliner) and VW (includes Scania), as well as a number of new entrants like BYD and Tesla, don’t agree with you….”

    Yeah of course they do. They are not stupid. They just aren’t interested in reducing carbon output. Their actions don’t match their propaganda. They are instead interested in cheap credit from their masters. All large corporations are now controlled by finance. So its a communist arrangement. If communists don’t agree with me thats not anything to do with science. Most of the control has gone to Blackrock 1st and Vanguard 2nd. A lot of this has happened since 2008 when the looting of the American treasury, through the treasury directly and through the Federal Reserve, stepped up to a whole new level. But the hierarchy here is a bit misleading. Blackrock owns Vanguard. Vanguard owns Blackrock. But Vanguard owns more of Blackrock then vice versa and Vanguards ownership is more secretive. So this unlisted ownership of Vanguard is probably where real power lies in the world today.

    The net effect of all these companies going over to batteries is that MORE AND NOT LESS carbon will be created for every level of economic activity. An exception would be in Norway where they have plenty of hydroelectric electricity to spare and a very sparse population.

    The secondary communists you mentioned were the Chinese. This is probably a good decision on balance. Because you have dense cities, and you want to try and improve the air quality. But again, because of the weight of the battery its a loser from the carbon output point of view. Yes the electric motor is lighter. Which is why electric bikes and small electric cars make a lot of sense. But the real tragedy is when the powers that be started getting rid of street-cars and trams starting from the 1930’s The oligarchy has always been against energy efficiency and that has not changed now. The premature transition to batteries for intercity travel is a gargantuan example of their hatred for energy efficiency which remains constant.

    As to the reality that diesel is about 40 times more energy dense for weight then batteries thats just a prosaic fact of nature. To disbelieve it is to be living in some kind of cult fantasy world that the internet tends to produce.

  14. I have seen some good news in this regard. There is one council I saw on youtube who had gone over to batteries. This would mean more carbon output if that were the some total of it. But since bus companies have these depots that take up a lot of land, and its wise to shelter the busses when they are parked, this sometimes leaves a lot of room for solar power and the potential for batteries to be even physically swapped over rather than charged only. So with busses and not trucks, there lies a bit of a possibility to make up for some of that power loss that the weight of the battery creates.

  15. To back up James Wimberley’s point, we also have to look at efficiency. A diesel motor is about 20% efficient at converting potential energy to useful work. An electric motor is about 80% efficient. Of course, there is still the energy efficiency of the whole set of embedded energies and the whole chain of production and energy transfers. That is a complicated energy accounting exercise to work out.

    In the long run, I think we will find that electric mass transit and transportation is cheaper by the money metric (which means very little really ) and by the materials, energy and pollution metrics which mean much more. However, I think we will also find that having everyone own a personal automobile is not sustainable.

  16. It is good news and smart politics. The community sense that the LNP are being unduly conservative on climate. Swing voters who do not support a radical economic reform agenda might back this policy.

  17. Oops! Bird obsessions reappearing after a few on-point comments. I’ll see if my new approach to auto-moderation works

  18. Energy density comparisons between petroleum fuels and battery energy storage for vehicles misses some critical points. Energy spent at the driving wheels per kilogram of the powertrain mass is what’s important.

    It seems batteries only need to be about 30% as energy-dense as gasoline to meet weight- and range-equivalence with ICEVs.

    When buying a vehicle, people generally consider:
    1. Can I afford it?
    2. Does it suit my needs?
    3. Do I want to be seen in it?

    The key to keeping fossil fuels in the ground is to remove the enormous direct and indirect subsidies they enjoy and make their market price consistent with their total cost to society.


  19. JQ: “Energy density is […] crucial for rockets..” Cue to repeat my recommendation for Charles Stross’ masterpiece of geeky black humour, A Tall Tail: https://www.tor.com/2012/07/20/a-tall-tail/ Do NOT try any of his ideas at home, nor even in the outback 50 miles from anywhere.

    Savonarola: This pro-diesel source gives the battery/diesel ratio of energy density as 27. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/can-tesla-batteries-perform-much-work-diesel-peter-quigley/ Batteries keep improving, diesel engines not significantly. There is still a long way to go before batteries become usable for middle- and long-haul commercial aviation. The industry is getting close on short-haul.

  20. Geoff MIell: “Batteries only need to be about 30% as energy-dense as gasoline to meet weight- and range-equivalence with ICEVs.” Current Teslas are only slightly heaver than competing German premium ICEVs. As for range, BEVs don´t need to be equal. I get get 1,000 km on a full tank in my turbo-diesel VW Touran – but I don´t really need this. At my age, 500 km is the most I can safely drive in a day, with at least two stops, and such long trips are rare. Many current BEV models sell well at ranges of 300 km or so.

    For trucks, Scania have pointed out that the combination of EU speed limits and EU rules on driver rest mean that a 400 km range is actually enough for an electric truck in Europe, given a dense network of fast recharging stations.
    “In a few years’ time, Scania plans to introduce long-distance electric trucks that will be able to carry a total weight of 40 tonnes for 4.5 hours, and fast charge during the drivers’ compulsory 45-minute rest.”
    4.5 x 80 = 360

  21. Shouldn´t both Diesel and electric cars be a lot more efficent than 80 and 20? To be fair, mainly the Diesel. Either way, there is no rational reason why vehicle emissions are supposed to grow. Usefull gas cars should get more efficient faster than distances traveled grow. Those SUVs are just stupid. One of our richest neighbours now can´t park a single car in his two car garage anmore. As all rich people he will sure go regularely to the old city center to the fancy shops and restaurants.Unfortuantely, the parking fee for suvs is still the same as for regular cars even so they need two spots. Still it is absolutly no fun to drive there with those things. Not that its more rational to fear the limited range of electric cars for 99% of the drivers who do. We could have nice electric cars with a range of 50-100 that are much cheaper than gas cars already, but nooo… must be 200+ and expensive. Did i mention the cheapest electric car on the eurpean market is a Dacia SUV…… gahhhhh.

    Meanwhile, the answer of my welfare guy when i said i got no car at hand and don´t want to go by bus with the high corona numbers, so why can´t we talk on the phone: Go by bike. Naturally, the welfare stuff is at the other end of town, utterly unaccesable by bus, but it has great parking space.

  22. It would be easy enough for an incoming government to pick up on a particularly sad case of a death due to pollution and to realise the urgent need to do something about the toll due to local pollution in cities. Perhaps they would need an inquiry or two. The toll on mortality and morbidity is huge so it would pretty much be a slam dunk…

    This is the way standards have been ratcheted up in Europe: you can drive a crummy old diesel, but not in a big metropolis (without paying a steep fee), and nobody wants to buy anything that might be useless in a few years’ time. Rapidly that becomes ‘only an EV’.

    Even with the status quo, unwillingness to set better standards for fuel means in 5-10 years time all Australia will be able to get is ICE cars destined for least developed countries or EVs. Would be easy enough to talk about Australia being left behind, too.

    (by the way, compare the dimensions of a Dacia Spring EV to a Corolla: ‘SUV’ is a rather broad term. Also, you can get a small short range EV in Europe/Asia, but why would anyone sell them to Australia?)

  23. James Wimberley: – “… Scania have pointed out that the combination of EU speed limits and EU rules on driver rest mean that a 400 km range is actually enough for an electric truck in Europe…

    Thanks for that. Per a study published in Jun 2020 by Transport & Environment: “Trips up to 400 km represent 62% of EU activity.” The study looks at comparing the cost of ownership over the first 5-year user period (based in France) with hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks vs battery electric trucks.

    JW: – “I get get 1,000 km on a full tank in my turbo-diesel VW Touran

    The VW Touran diesel has a 13 litre AdBlue tank for the operation of the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) advanced emissions control for diesel engines. It seems a tankful of AdBlue provides a range of around 6,000 Miles (or 9,656 km), depending on personal driving style.

    Does you vehicle use AdBlue? What’s the supply situation for AdBlue where you are, James?

  24. Adblue is an example of one of those things we do that seem good for the environment but that on a full analysis are not so good. The urea is produced by the synthesis of ammonia and CO2 (carbon dioxide). Natural gas is used in the manufacture process for ammonia. We are using natural gas to create urea (main use for fertilizer). Almost every C used in these processes ends up as CO2 in the atmosphere in the long run. We should be using less fossil fuels full-stop. How do we do that when almost our entire food system and transport system depend on fossil fuels? De-carbonizing electricity is probably the easy part. Can we feed 8 billion people without fossil fuels as fuels and feed-stocks? I’ve seen no explanations of how we could do this.

    “Vaclav Smil, of the University of Manitoba, told The New York Times that, without nitrogen fertilizer, there would not be enough food for 40 percent of the world’s current (much less future) population.”


  25. Ben said …”sad case of a death due to pollution and to realise the urgent need to do something about the toll due to local pollution in cities. Perhaps they would need an inquiry or two. The toll on mortality and morbidity is huge so it would pretty much be a slam dunk…”

    “Sex ratio of babies linked to pollution and poverty indicators

    “Study finds some pollutants are correlated with higher levels of boys and others with more girls


  26. The issue is more that the Corolla keeps growing like all “lower middle class” cars. So the Dacia Spring starts looking reasonable. Its not. That is not how the bottom end of the market is supposed to look like. And it remains an SUV, with the usual added fuel needs compared to a similar siced non suv.

  27. Per a Big Rigs post by James Graham this evening headlined ‘Running out of fuel or food isn’t an option’: Operators react to AdBlue crisis, quoting Lyndon Watson, CEO of Don Watson Transport:

    “As soon as it gets out there that the AdBlue [shortage] isn’t just going to stop all the trucks, it’s also going to stop all the shelves being restocked, their servos being restocked, everyone’s going to go, ‘I really should fill up my tank and fill up my toilet paper. And everything is going to go in a day.

    “It’s not going to deplete over the course of a couple of weeks, or months. The population will skin it dry in a day.”


    Apparently there’s enough AdBlue to last some truck operators until around the end of January. It looks like government officials (and Ministers) may be very busy over the next weeks to assist the Australian transport industry in sourcing sufficient alternative AdBlue supplies.

    I’d suggest it wouldn’t be a good look for the Coalition to have to please explain to Australian voters why many people may be experiencing supermarket and shop shelves being empty and seeing long queues at servos, during the federal election campaign in 2022.

  28. What is desperately needed is for the opposition to articulate a pathway for workers and regions heavily dependent on the fossil fuel sector to prosper in a clean energy future.

    There are plenty of opportunities here, but it would require vision and commitment, rather than small-target opportunism.

  29. Ikonoclast, it’s true natural gas is currently the cheapest way to make ammonia – step one of Harber-Bosch is to generate hydrogen from the alkanes, oxidising the residual carbon. But if electricity is cheap enough it is easy to get the hydrogen by hydrolysing water (“green hydrogen”) – that is what the spruikers of hydrogen for transport envisage. From there it is the same H-B process to ammonia so you would use large parts of existing fertiliser (and explosive) plants.

  30. John Quiggin says DECEMBER 5, 2021 AT 9:38 AM
    Energy density is one of those ideas like EROEI that seems to get more attention than it should…

    Well, JQ, all ideas should be interrogated now and again, but even more so if any assumption seems wish based or biased, the evidence contradictory, and the accounting and conclusions off. More attention is certainly warranted where such becomes persistent seeming holy writ. You raise an EROEI case in point that requires attention:


    The text from the supporting information backing the bleak corrected figure of an EROEI of 5.7 as was mentioned there:

    Financial and energy costs of PV systems – page 7

    In Figure SS2, we plot breakdowns of both the financial (6) and energy costs (7) incurred at various
    stages in the crystalline silicon PV system production process. The majority of financial costs
    (59%) occur in the last two stages involving the frame manufacture and module assembly as well
    as the balance of system and installation costs (6). The majority of energetic costs (57%) involve
    the extraction and purification of polysilicon and the production of PV wafers (8). Stoppato (2008)
    calculates that 90% of the inputs to multi-crystalline silicon module manufacture are in the form
    of electricity (9).

    12 %
    6 %
    9 %
    Solar cell
    14 %
    Solar panel
    25 %
    34 %

    21 %
    Ingot & Wafer
    36 %
    Solar cell
    11 %
    Solar panel
    19 %
    13 %
    Figure S2: Breakdowns of the financial (top) and energetic (bottom) costs of crystalline silicon PV
    system production from material extraction through to system installation.

  31. What’s bleak about 5.7 ? Implies a 15 per cent loss instead of my estimate of 10 per cent. Tech progress since my 2015 post wipes that out many times over.

  32. What? What implied 15% loss? I saw no percentage loss estimates mentioned, 10% or other in the OPs. It’s an ERoEI of 5.7 vs your calculated figure of 10 that I’m looking at. It’s a 43% reduction in ERoEI. Please show a greater than 43% tech progress in installed pv energetic costs since 2015.

    The bleakness arises from the massive adverse impacts on civilisation, living standards, and global equity inherent in dropping from the ERoEI currently enjoyed by the better half and wanted by the other half.

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