Morrison must tell the truth about the climate


An earthquake is defined as what happens when two blocks of the Earth suddenly slide over each other. It happened in Victoria 10 days ago. Something similar happened two days later in the political speech, when Treasurer Josh Frydenberg publicly supported a target of net zero emissions reduction by 2050. Indeed, I was told that the The importance of political change is so great that one event could have mirrored the other.

However, Frydenberg’s adherence to the target was more out of self-interest than out of national interest. There has been recent evidence of a major climate movement gathering momentum in its Kooyong headquarters, threatening to challenge it by fielding a leading climate candidate in the upcoming election.

It should be remembered that Frydenberg was challenged in the last election by Oliver Yates, a former CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but the challenge was muted by a prominent second candidate, lawyer and refugee advocate Julian Burnside, showing up at the same time. This effectively divided the protest vote, allowing Frydenberg to survive. I suspect that the emotions are stronger this time, and that he is feeling it.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, meanwhile, is dithering around the climate issue in the process of returning to leadership. The National Party remains fundamentally divided on the climate. On the one hand, there are those who are fundamentally still climate deniers, as well as those who want to aspire to the fossil fuel lobby for financial support. On the other hand, there are those who value unity within the Coalition on more important issues, as well as those who can see the very real regional opportunities for their party in an effective transition to a low emissions Australia. carbon. Which camp Joyce occupies depends on the day of the week.

Scott Morrison’s strategy has been to try to close his leadership deficit by creating the illusion that he is fighting to drag his parties towards net zero engagement. It has come under significant global and national pressure to do so, so it can be announced at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held in Glasgow in November. That’s why he used a host of weasel words to make it seem like he’s getting closer and closer to a firm commitment. He began by saying that “of course he wanted to reach net zero as soon as possible”, which has become in recent days that he “would like to achieve such a goal, preferably by 2050”.

Morrison has deliberately sought to muddy the waters here, with his international comments downplaying the need for goals and suggesting that the focus should be on policies to achieve desired results. It must be ironic enough: he has no commitment to a goal or the policies to make an effective transition.

A major weakness of this strategy is that it gave Joyce and some of the more vocal Nats, such as Matt Canavan, time to go wild. It also gave them the opportunity to try to extract a “price to get along” when in reality they had very little room to do otherwise.

Joyce tried to pledge not to lose jobs in the coal industry etc. However, this only revealed his ignorance of the nature of the climate challenge and its opportunities – especially regional opportunities. It is not about “job losses”, but about efficient and fair jobs and community transitions. An effective transition relies largely on regional development, the opportunities to transform all forms of waste – whether household, industrial, agricultural or animal – into electricity and fuels, with “regenerative agriculture” capable of generating energy. net negative emissions and to be financially beneficial to farmers.

By global standards, in terms of coalition governments, nationals exert disproportionate influence in the Morrison government. They built on the long-held myth that the country owes its prosperity to farmers. More recently they have added miners, reflecting the reality of our dependence on China. Yet surprisingly, the Nats soon turn on China over global warming.

Indeed, they argue that there is no point in us doing anything about emissions when China is such a big emitter. This worn-out argument is just an excuse to systematically do nothing and not take a stand. It is deliberately ignoring everything the Chinese are actually doing to address the climate challenge – like pricing carbon in major industrial centers, accelerating fleet electrification, and overtaking coal. More recently, China pledged to reduce its investment in new coal-fired power projects in developing countries, under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Basically, the Nats have lost touch with their constituencies. Although they claim to represent the interests of miners and farmers, these two groups have for years demanded strong government leadership on climate. The National Farmers Federation and most other farm groups, for example, have already committed to net zero emissions. Big miners, such as BHP and Rio Tinto, have declared their intention to move away from thermal coal and called for decisive government leadership. All of our states and territories are already committed to achieving net zero by 2050. The NSW government is leading the way in this regard, having announced a 2030 target to reduce emissions by 50%.

Some nationals, including Canavan and George Christensen, continue to prove to the world how out of touch they are with wanting new coal-fired power plants. Particular emphasis has been placed on a new coal-fired power station for North Queensland. This completely ignores the reality, as there is no net demand for additional electricity in North Queensland, and renewables, especially solar and wind, are much cheaper. Moreover, international and national banks will not finance it and global insurers will not insure it.

The gist of it all is that Morrison spoiled the discussion, trying to defend the indefensible data, misquoting and exaggerating his emissions cuts. The “success” he claims under the Kyoto Protocol was due to our delay target and the treatment of land clearing. He won’t admit the real success of Julia Gillard’s carbon pricing. Nor will it admit that its abolition failed to reduce the promised electricity prices.

There is blatant hypocrisy in Morrison’s rejection of carbon pricing while supporting the Direct Action Plan, where government revenues are used to buy emission reductions. Does direct action put an implicit price on carbon?

It is also unfortunate that in alluding to a net zero 2050 goal, Morrison ignores the reality of such a commitment. The focus on a 2050 target is in itself misleading as attention should be on a carbon budget that recognizes that emissions accumulate. Basically, the budget expresses a cumulative emission limit to meet the Paris soft target of 2 degrees Celsius of warming and the ambitious target of 1.5 degrees of warming.

Morrison acts as if he can stick to our Paris pledges to cut emissions by a meager 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2030. In fact, as Climate Targets have shown Panel in its recent report – disclosure: Will Steffen, Lesley Hughes and Malte Meinshausen – achievement of the government’s 2030 target would be insufficient to achieve net zero by 2050. The 2030 target should be a reduction of more than 50 to 60 percent of the 2005 base if the next target is to be met. This analysis was based on the government’s carbon budget model and used government data.

Some Coalition members act as if we can wait until, say, 2049 and then move to net zero 2050, but all the evidence suggests that policy adjustments need to be made upstream if the goals are to be met. The analysis of our panel of targets has clearly shown that if the emissions reductions are insufficient by 2030, the annual adjustments after 2030 should be between three and 10 times greater than those made in the 2020s and then reach net zero by 2050.

There should be no magic to a 2050 target. Indeed, net zero by 2050 is a risky and inadequate target, especially for rich countries like Australia. It is in our national interest to reach net zero before 2050, preferably around 2040. Our target panel analysis also showed that if the government maintains its current target of 2030, Australia is expected to achieve net zero emissions. ‘by 2037 to stay within its 2 degrees. Celsius carbon budget, an extremely difficult task.

Morrison is correct that a target is nothing without a plan to reach it. The problem is, he has neither. Morrison would claim that his government’s tech-driven approach is his plan, but it clearly falls short of what is needed to lead to rapid and deep emission reductions. This would require a detailed transition strategy – which would require us to speed up the shutdown of coal-fired power plants and exclude any further development of fossil fuels, including gas. In addition, the Morrison government should consider national strategies for regenerative agriculture and the electrification of our fleet. It’s not.

It seems Morrison is not ashamed that Australia has become one of the world’s biggest laggards in terms of climate goals and policies. This was most certainly the case in his recent climate speech at the United Nations. The speech was essentially a massive exaggeration of what the government had done and achieved in terms of goals and policies. He underestimated our global and regional responsibilities and showed no awareness of the scale and urgency of our climate challenge.

It is not surprising that we were able to improve our Kyoto targets because we were one of the few countries that were able to actually increase our emissions during the first Kyoto period. The international community will generally not accept the attempt to carry over credits for our performance against Kyoto targets, and neither should it.

If the Morrison government is really serious about a net zero commitment, Morrison needs to start by telling the truth about exactly where we are in relation to our carbon budget and what transition opportunities will give us the emission reductions we are seeing. we need. He will not be able to get away with accounting tricks. As an economist, I must support the most profitable transition strategy: putting a price on carbon and making polluters pay.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 2, 2021 under the title “Target practice”.

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