“The cynic in me is wondering if this is somehow a staging, a work of performance art,” says acclaimed climatologist and author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center from Pennsylvania State University. “This allows the Prime Minister to give the impression of taking a bold stance by committing to net zero emissions in 2050, when in fact it is an anemic commitment that sets fire to the powder, decades too late. “
Mann, who wrote much of his new book The new climate war while living in Australia on sabbatical during the black summer bushfires, knows how much the climate is contested in Australian politics. “Australia is clearly the last hurdle right now among major industrial nations when it comes to making serious climate commitments.”
Former Australian chief climate diplomat Howard Bamsey said net zero by 2050 is a “very low bar” and the bare minimum expected by our allies. “If you think you can’t do it, then you need the blood on the floor to show you’ve tried,” he says.
Why 2030 matters
Simply put, 2030 is crucial to tackling climate change because it forces governments to take immediate action rather than delay action until it becomes impossible to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping warming below 2 degrees – and as close to 1.5 as possible – by 2100.
According to the last major United Nations climate report in August, to have only a 67% chance of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees, from 2020 we could afford to emit just 400 billion tonnes of dioxide. more carbon in the atmosphere.
Given that the world currently emits around 40 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, by January 2021 that would have been 360 billion tonnes, and by 2030 our “allocation” would be exhausted. .
“Have a chance to touch [Paris goals] we need big reductions now, ”said Professor Will Steffen, former executive director of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute and advisor to the Climate Council.
“Setting a 2030 target that allows for a gradual transition to net zero emissions helps avoid getting locked into carbon-intensive economic pathways and can avoid costly rates of change in the years to come” , indicates a new report on the gap between current targets and sustaining global warming. at 1.5 degrees by Climate Analytics, a global center for climate policy and think tank.
In climate negotiations, it is also recognized that rich countries have a responsibility to cut faster than developing countries because they have already benefited from their wealth by harnessing fossil fuels, and because they have the financial resources to act.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are responding to international pressure, albeit more slowly than many would like on the international stage. As Joe Biden announced his pledge to cut emissions by 50% by 2030 while assuming the presidency of the United States, Morrison said he wanted Australia to ‘preferably’ reach net zero by 2050.
Johnson described the economic opportunities for a clean revolution when he said that “in the years to come the only great powers will be the green powers.” Frydenberg echoed this message and warned that global investors view Australia as a risky backwater.
“We cannot run the risk that the markets mistakenly assume that we are not transitioning with the rest of the world,” Frydenberg said.
Like other G20 countries, Germany takes net zero by mid-century for granted, and is now grappling with immediate domestic politics. Germany has pledged to cut emissions by 65% by 2030, and the government is fighting bad press as reports show the country is on track to reach just 50% by the end of the decade.
But successive federal governments have been crippled for a decade by internal divisions over climate. While a majority of MPs recognize that there is support for greater action among urban voters, they have been blocked by some of those who represent the rural electorate as well as by blue-collar workers in coal mines and power stations.
After identifying climate policy as the Prime Minister’s graveyard, Morrison adopted a “technology, not taxes” mantra. Emissions reductions would only be achieved if they could be achieved at no cost to industry. As a result, Australia has yet to update its 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% based on 2005 levels, making it even more worthwhile. aberrant among peer countries.
The government is working on an updated version of its technology roadmap that could pave the way for a net zero deadline. It will focus on the expected greenhouse gas reductions by investing in low-emission technology.
Is it possible ?
According to scientists and engineers, deep and fast cuts can be made. The cost of renewable energy technology has fallen faster than expected, and adoption rates have exceeded even optimistic forecasts.
Australian state and territory governments have all adopted targets of net zero by 2050 or earlier, while NSW’s announcement this week that it would pursue a 50% target by 2030 puts it in line with Victoria’s ambitions.
The NSW decision also suggests that there is also a way out of the political deadlock within the Coalition.
The modeling relied on by the NSW government in adopting the target suggests that it can be achieved through four main measures.
The first is the replacement of the coal-fired power park with renewables based in renewable energy zones across the state. In these areas, the government agrees to rationalize permits for renewable energies and foot the bill for transport infrastructure.
Other policies include a series of measures to make owning electric cars cheaper and easier and a fund to help industry replace equipment.
Renewable energy zones have been critical in gaining support from NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro, NSW predicting that his emissions reduction campaign will attract around $ 12 billion in investment into the economy by 2030, including two-thirds should go to regional communities.
The area around Joyce’s federal headquarters is expected to generate $ 10 billion in investment in the region.
Likewise, Victoria’s plan includes injecting public funds into programs to boost investment in renewable energy, private adoption of solar energy, and industrial innovation.
Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency recommended that in the short term, the government consider “stopping the construction of new coal-fired power plants and phasing out coal-fired power by 2040. (or 2030 for developed countries), phase out combustion-engine cars by 2035, end fossil fuels. subsidies and the rapid acceleration of the deployment of renewable energies over the next decade to decarbonise the electricity system by 2050 ”.
The federal government’s “technology, not taxes” policy encompasses some of these measures – but it also maintains fossil fuel subsidies such as the fuel tax rebate of $ 7.8 billion. It is also investing public money in large-scale carbon capture and storage in the hope of making some fossil fuels work in a net zero world.
Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis group, was scathing in its assessment: “The government seems determined to replace fossil fuels with fossil fuels: the 2021-2022 budget allocates significant sums (52.9 million central electric ($ 30 million), with no new support for renewable energies or electric vehicles.
Their overall verdict on Australia’s performance so far? “Very insufficient”.
With COP26 starting in less than a month, the Morrison government doesn’t have much time to convince the world otherwise.