PM Commits To Zero Emissions By 2050 With Zero Practical Steps To Achieve It

Prime Minister Morrison - Australia Zero Emissions

Yesterday at the National Press Club, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the following:

“Our goal is to reach net-zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050.”

My response was, “Thank god for that.” Twenty-nine years to get our emissions down to zero is a lot more time than we should be spending, but it looked as though our PM had come a long way from the days he pranced around Parliament, lovingly cradling a lump of coal.

Morrison and a lump of coal

Unfortunately, it soon became clear the PM’s prancing days were far from finished. He was instead busy dancing a deceptive two-step designed to hide the fact he clearly wasn’t willing to do a damned thing to hasten our transition away from fossil fuels. The only exception being to shovel money towards industry to pay for new “advances”. Using technology we already have — such as rooftop solar — that can provide energy at a lower cost than coal and gas did not get a mention. Instead, Morrison boasted about expanding gas extraction.

Clearly he wants credit for making zero-emissions a goal while being unwilling to take any immediate action to reduce fossil fuel use.

Bad Politics

This weaseling around looks like a terrible political decision to me. It lets Labor take the high ground because they can point to concrete plans to reduce emissions as soon as they’re in power1.

Meanwhile, the crazies in the Coalition will still be looking to depose Morrison because he has dared to speak the truth that coal is on its way out.

A Good Call

But despite the refusal to lay out a practical plan of action, it is still a good thing the PM has committed to zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. While it’s clear he intends to do the absolute minimum he can get away with, now the cat’s out of the bottle, it’s not going to be easy to put that genie back in the bag.

The Coalition must now pretend they want to reduce net emissions to zero, and — as the cost of renewables, energy storage, and electric transport decline further and international pressure mounts — it will soon become easier for them just to stop lying.

Nitpicking With Pliers

If you want to see exactly what the PM said, the transcript of his entire speech is here. I’ll go over the most relevant parts where he promised to stop at nothing to cut Australia’s emissions to zero, provided it requires doing next to nothing. I’ll address my remarks directly to the PM, since he clearly needs help from someone with charisma.

I’ll start by again quoting the best sentence of the entire speech:

“Our goal is to reach net-zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050.”

This great, Scott. I’m really impressed here. I have to admit, when I heard you were going to make an announcement about the environment, I was scared you would say you’d discovered “super clean” coal that only emits carbon monoxide when burned.

But when the leader of a political party announces a big new goal, it’s helpful to mention some of the steps that will be taken to achieve it. However, you only left us with prayers and angel farts. You gave zero practical steps that will be taken to reduce emissions now and only said technological advances would fix the problem.

Let me tell you a little saying of my grandfather’s:

“Hope is not a plan. It’s merely a method of separating suckers from their money.”

Rather than give details of the technology you think needs to be developed, you instead spent time saying what you won’t do, which appears to be undertaking any effort what-so-ever. It really wasn’t a “Fight on the Beaches” kind of speech. It was more “Eh, we’ll fight the Germans if we think it will be easy.”

In 1962, US President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” While you’re like, “We choose to cut emissions, but right from the start, we’re ruling out doing anything difficult to achieve that goal.”

The next thing that came out of your mouth was:

But when we get there, when we get there, whether in Australia or anywhere else, that will depend on the advances made in science and technology needed to commercially transform not just advanced economies and countries, but the developing world as well.

WTF? Are you saying we don’t have the technologies required right now? South Australia already generates more than 60% of its electricity from wind and solar, and we know exactly how to increase it further. Over 50% of cars sold in Norway are now electric. Two out of three of the best selling cars in Europe in December were fully electric. It’s not as if they have future technology in Norway or Europe. They have the same tech we do. They have simply made the effort to ensure it’s used.

Technology has already given us renewable generation and energy storage that is cheaper than coal and gas and works just fine in the developing world. What are you waiting for? Lunar panels and wave power that’s even cheaper? Technological advances are great, and many more will occur, but we need zero new advances to cut emissions now. Any insistence on some magically perfect solution wastes time while the climate situation worsens.

Science and technology will, as it always has in these areas, set the pace and in the developing world this is important because it is in those countries that dominate the emissions horizon.

Goddammit, man! Didn’t you listen to your own speech as it came out of your mouth? Just a few minutes ago, you were boasting about the country’s response to COVID. When a pandemic threatened us, you didn’t decide to let technology set the pace and do nothing until vaccines were developed. Instead, after Australia’s medical professionals convinced you there was a real threat2, a huge public health response was enacted despite the expense because lives were at risk and waiting for a cheap fix could result in tens of thousands dying.

Right now more than tens of thousands of lives are at risk from climate change and we already have low-cost technological solutions. To sit around and do nothing until something even cheaper comes along would be murderous madness.

In Australia, we will do this by investing and partnering in the technology breakthroughs needed to reduce and offset emissions in a way that enables our heavy industry in particular, industry more broadly…

Okay, I get it. You’re going to throw money around to get these advances you seem to believe we need to cut emissions. But are you actually willing to lift a finger to do something to reduce emissions now?

In Australia, my Government will not tax our way to net zero emissions. I will not put that cost on Australians and I will particularly not ask regional Australians to carry that burden. Getting to net zero, whether here or anywhere else, should be about technology not taxes and high prices.

What I hear here, Scott, is — apart from contributing to technology advances — you don’t think Australians should put any effort into achieving an important goal. To me, it sounds like you’re against Australians investing in their country’s future.

Maybe that sort of attitude flies in Canberra, but I can tell you it’s not a very popular one in places like Wollongong, Toowoomba, and Adelaide. People there are willing to sacrifice to build a better future for their country, their kids, and the world.

Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of many people around the world who have already put vast amounts of effort into developing the technology we need, the cost of eliminating most fossil fuel use is trivial. The savings from low-cost renewable generation are likely to exceed the cost of getting net emissions down to zero.

In Australia, we’re not waiting on this, we’re getting on with it.

You just said we need new advances and you’ve ruled out higher prices and taxes, so it sounds like you’re not getting on with it. You haven’t proposed one thing that will reduce emissions this year.

Emissions fell by 3 percent in the year to June 2020, to their lowest levels since 1998, meaning we are now nearly 17 percent below 2005 levels. These are the facts. Now, this compares to reductions of approximately 9 percent on average across the OECD, 1 percent in New Zealand and less than 1 percent in Canada. So we’re not waiting.

Scott, don’t be an idiot! You can’t open your speech by describing how severe the pandemic related economic slowdown has been and then claim the resulting emissions drop as some kind of policy success! People are going to notice. Not everybody’s eyes glaze over five seconds after you start speaking.

No one is going to believe the Coalition has been working to reducing emissions, rather than opposing them at every turn. You’re freaking Scott Morrison, the coal cavorting jester from Down Under, leader of the party that claimed improved fuel efficiency standards would destroy the weekend. It’s not as if your reputation when it comes to cutting emissions is good.

And are you trying to get some Jacinda boot applied to your behind? Is that your goal? Because you just suggested Australia is doing better on emissions than New Zealand when we annually emit close to 16 tonnes of CO2 per person, while in NZ they’re around half that at 8 tonnes. That’s not how you make friends across the Tasman, and it doesn’t encourage me to take what you say at face value at any time ever.

We are rolling out our $200 million program to build new diesel storage facilities.

Okay, now you’re just trolling us.

The Beetaloo strategic basin plan has been released, with four more coming. The pipeline market will be further improved as will the liquidity of the Wolumbilla gas hub. All important changes.

Do you even know where CO2 emissions come from? You have to understand that people will question your sincerity if you commit to zero net emissions and then immediately boast about increasing fossil fuel extraction.

It’s Not Hard To Cut Emissions

Scott Morrison seems to think it’s very difficult to cut greenhouse gas emissions because apparently, we need lots of technological advances before it’s possible. While new tech will make change even easier, there’s no need to wait for any advance to cut emissions dramatically.

I can offer a very simple plan that will get us to zero net emissions well before 2050. It’s so simple I can describe it using just two bullet points:

  • Introduce a carbon tax of $30 per tonne that increases by $5 a year.
  • Allow a carbon credit equal to the carbon tax for each tonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere and sequestered long term.

By my estimate, this likely to get us to, or close to, zero-emissions in under 10 years.

If we decided to take it more slowly and only raised the carbon tax by $2.50 per year, then it should take less than 20 years to reach zero emissions. That’s 10 or more years earlier than the 2050 target.

I’m not saying this is the best way to reduce emissions. I can think of plenty of ways it can be improved, but it has the following advantages over Scott Morrison’s plan:

  • It would work immediately to reduce emissions.
  • It actually is a plan and not just a commitment without a plan.
  • It can be described with one less bullet point than listing its main advantages requires.

My plan does have the drawback of being totally unacceptable to Scott Morrison because it contains the word “tax”. To overcome this objection, I had a large team of experts work on the problem through the night, and this is what we came up with:

  • All large companies must make a compulsory contribution to the “Reduce taxes for Aussie Battlers” fund for each tonne of CO2 they emit equal to $30 with an increase of $5 each year.
  • Allow a credit equal to the compulsory contribution for each tonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere and sequestered long term.

And there you have it. A plan Scott Morrison couldn’t possibly object to that will get us to zero emissions well before 2050. Feel to free steal it and claim it was all your own idea, Scott. I won’t mind at all.

Footnotes

  1. At the last election, Labor promised a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 while the Coalition promised the minimum that would happen anyway with a 26% reduction.
  2. And made it damn clear you’d get the blame if you stuffed it up.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Alan Gregory says

    A stand-up comedian in Parliament!
    Well done SA, but Tasmania is already 100% renewable electricity, and aiming for 200%.

  2. Stunningly insightful, thanks Ronald. I am a little disappointed you only managed to shoe-horn one “Great Scott” joke into your article. B+, could do better. 😆

  3. He DID NOT make any commitment to reduce emissions to zero by any particular time. It was more ” aspirational goal” ear fodder!

    And unfortunately you have fallen for spreading it around with statements like “it is still a good thing the PM has committed to zero emissions by 2050 at the latest”. Sure you say other more accurate stuff, but you gave him credit for something he has rejected every time he had the opportunity to do it.

    Lets be clear: Morrison refuses again to commit to zero emissions by 2050.

  4. Greg O'Grady says

    I only wish that marketing bloke would speak with the same clarity that you do, Ronald.

  5. ScoMo is trying to keep everybody happy by doing nothing.

  6. 😂🤣😂🤣

  7. Geoff Miell says

    Greg Jericho at The Guardian provides an excellent explainer on GHG emissions targets in his piece today, that concludes with:

    “So we need to stop thinking that setting a target of zero emissions by 2050 is good enough – we need to be asking what political parties are doing to keep within our carbon budget.

    And if they don’t know, then we should treat their policies with the contempt they deserve.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2021/feb/02/australia-needs-to-stop-thinking-that-setting-a-target-of-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-good-enough

    Dr Van Der Kallen, National Chair, Doctors for the Environment Australia, in his opening statement on Friday (Jan 29) at a Parliamentary public hearing into Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill 2020, said (page 11 of ‘proof’ transcript):

    “Extreme heatwaves are associated with significant rises in mortality and emergency presentations. An excess of 374 deaths were observed during the four-day period when temperatures exceeded 40 degrees in Victoria in 2009. Without significant mitigation, we can expect to see cities such as Melbourne and Sydney with temperatures in excess of 50 degrees by 2040.”
    https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Environment_and_Energy/ClimateBills2020/Public_Hearings

    I’d suggest once enough voting people wake up to the possibility that Morrison’s government is facilitating their (or their children’s/grandchildren’s) future suffering and untimely deaths, through incompetent action on the climate emergency and actually working to make it worse through the ongoing promotion/encouragement/approval of more fossil fuel projects, then the Coalition won’t be looked upon kindly.

  8. Great (and entertaining) dissection of the PM’s nonsense, Ronald. I couldn’t bear to watch the condescending delivery, but did happen to see Katherine Murphy’s facial response to his BS about science & technology. (See https://iview.abc.net.au/video/NC2112C001S00 at 1:04:59).

  9. Agreed, He is hanging his hopes on things like SMRs and carbon capture on fossil generators

    Neither of which will ever be cheaper than wind and solar

  10. An hilarious if it wasn’t so serious article. I remember when ScoMo and McKayla Cash stood out in front of the Subaru dealership and warned that Bill Shorten was going to confiscate all the mum’s 4WDs and all the tradies would have no utes to cart their tools around. What a joke.

  11. The problem with a $30 carbon tax is that industry will just pass it on as higher prices. Ultimately the end-consumer pays for everything. I’ve had some thought on this for a while now; back in 2019 I sent a suggestion via my local MP to Energy Minister Angus Taylor:
    A tax credit for renewable energy generation funded 100% by a corresponding tax on fossil fuel generation. It goes like this:
    1) Large energy generators get a tax credit of, say, $10 per MWh generated from renewables.
    2) The total cost of that credit is divided by the total MWh of energy generated from fossil fuels, as a tax on fossil fuel generators. Just don’t call it a ‘carbon tax’.
    3) If the fossil fuel tax exceeds, say, $5 per MWh generated then cap it at $5 and reduce the renewables credit proportionately so that it remains a zero-sum game.
    Net zero cost to the Federal budget, so no additional tax burden on the general populace. A small burden to coal & gas electricity generators supporting a small boost to renewables (and for companies that do both, they can net one against the other). But importantly, it puts pressure on boardroom level decisions on where to invest.
    Admittedly, electricity generation is only one area of CO2 emission, but COVID seems to have already had an impact on aircraft & electric cars are already a fast growing market. I’ll turn my attention to them soon.

    • Remember that under the Carbon price introduced by PM Gillard the great majority was compensated through tax or social security for a near net total offset for us punters. The mmost efective opposition leader ever, Tony Abbott set carbon pricing back10 years or more.

  12. Lewis Tucker says

    Guys, you need to take a look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 Report, Annex III. It will show that you’re all missing a critical fact; the second most effective eliminator of CO2 emissions is Nuclear Power, the most effective being On-Shore Wind. Now the latter is fantastic technology (and I love it to bits) but it requires vast storage which itself will generate considerable CO2 emissions and waste issues during the build and disposal cycle.

    Usefully, and realistically, the Report delineates various technologies performance over a 100-year CO2 generation cycle, amortized to a standard figure of equivalent grams of CO2 emitted per KW-HR of energy generated. So to get CO2 down quickly Nuclear is required, as indicated by one of the most important Reports on the generation of CO2 ever created (the next report is due in 2022).

    You need to ask the question; since this is an Emergency (and it is), what is the fastest way to get it under control, and generate enough power to firstly, supply grid power, and secondly, to supply enough power to electrolyze sea water to produce cryogenic hydrogen, the only truly reliable way to replace liquid fossil fuels. Batteries are great, but they’ll never drive medium tracks, heavy trucks, road trains, or heavy rail transport. It’ll only be good for buzzing around town, and maybe a little further.

    Interestingly, over the 100-year cycle solar comes a poor runner up to On-Shore Wind, and Nuclear (which does not need storage or massive grid reconstruction).

    Reactors can be built within 15 years easy. After all the French did, and their system supplies virtually CO2 free emissions continuously 24/7. Just think about that for a moment. Check out …

    https://www.electricitymap.org/map?solar=false&remote=true&wind=false

    Nuclear technology has moved on greatly since the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s. Waste is manageable through reprocessing and greater energy extraction, and sophisticated technologies and engineering philosophies that manage safety. Better still, the waste volumetric load is very small compared to other technologies. It’s doable and manageable.

    GW will not be stopped by fooling around with low output, low intensity, highly distributed systems. We need to get on with very serious zero CO2 power production, and as soon as possible. Indeed, and encourage by example, the take up of Nuclear. It’s a great opportunity to getting on top of the most intractable problem civilization has ever faced..

    But hey, I love solar. I have a great Sunpower 5 KW system and it’s great technology. It really is. And I’ve garnered huge amounts of taxpayers largesse per KW-HR of energy produces! But solar, big or small, is just not up to the emergency task at hand. It produces too much CO2 per KW-HR!! Really! As does Hydro and Off-Shore Wind. And yes, Solar too.

    Read the Report (written by scientists from around the world).

    But every word of it.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      We’re familiar with nuclear power. If I raise my head I can see a control unit used in a nuclear power station on the shelf. But nuclear is, at this time, more expensive than coal and gas while solar and wind plus dispatchable energy storage is cheaper than fossil fuels. So nuclear won’t be built here. Building nuclear as well renewables doesn’t make sense because of the expense. Renewables give more bang per buck.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Lewis Tucker,
      The climate emergency requires rapid GHG emissions reductions from NOW ON. Any delay to reduce global GHG emissions beyond the next few years (peaking at or beyond 2025 is now too late) means likely catastrophic climate conditions (+3 °C or more relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) in the second half of this century.

      Compelling scientific evidence I see indicates:
      * All coal and fossil gas extraction, and GHG emissions from them, needs to be phased out and stopped by 2030 or earlier, on a global scale.
      * All petroleum oil extraction, and emissions from them, needs to be phased out and stopped by 2040 or earlier, on a global scale.
      * Global mean warming reached +1.2 °C in 2020.
      * Global mean warming is already ‘locked-in’ for +1.5 °C, likely before 2030.
      * Current GHG emissions trajectory likely means +2 °C by 2050, and +3 °C in the 2070s.
      * Beyond +2 °C warming risks triggering ‘tipping points’ to drive a “Hothouse Earth” scenario.
      See the report “Climate Reality Check 2020”: https://www.climaterealitycheck.net/

      Only radical measures will now work. If we/humanity collectively fail to rapidly reduce GHG emissions from NOW ON, the consequences will likely be existential for billions of people and human civilisation later this century.
      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/18/climate-crisis-heat-is-on-global-heating-four-degrees-2100-change-way-we-live

      You state: “Reactors can be built within 15 years easy.”

      Lewis, I’d say that’s undeniably far too slow to provide any meaningful, timely contribution to rapidly reduce GHG emissions needed RIGHT NOW.
      See my comments at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/mcmahon-nuclear-renewables-mb1756/#comment-868084
      And: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/mcmahon-nuclear-renewables-mb1756/#comment-868808

  13. You’re right to see through the government’s lies, and to paraphrase them in more honest terms, but you help to perpetuate them by repeating the word “commitment” in your own headline. It is, as you know, no commitment whatsoever.
    Your headline should have been something more like: “Morrison lies again about emissions and hopes that the tooth fairy will come to the rescue.” If that’s too long, just “Morrison lies again about emissions.”

  14. Yes Labour talked a big game on their emission targets. Then got wiped out in an unloseable election. Gillard got wiped out by wanting to introduce a carbon tax. There is too much big industry that relies on fossil fuels and therefore peoples jobs/families/perceived wealth. I am a fan of reducing GHG and emissions, I have a solar system on my house. It’s just unpopular with the mob when the perception is energy will become more expensive/less reliable and will cost people their jobs. You can spin it any way you want based on your beliefs, but that is the reality and it has shown up at every election where energy is the focus.

    • Individuals were compensated via tax cuts and pension increases as were businesses and Gentailers

      Gutless Abbott didn’t reverse that so we all continue to pay

      Only the truly stupid were duped by the Carbon Tax lie

      Still waiting for my $550 saving per year that Abbott promised

  15. Geoff Miell says

    The National Climate Emergency Summit published on Thursday (Feb 4) a YouTube video titled “RESET.21 | MATTERS OF FACTS: THE SCIENCE OF GETTING IT RIGHT” that presents the proceedings of the first forum of RESET.21 on Tuesday (Feb 2) in Melbourne, duration 1:22:23, moderated by Jo Chandler – Science Writer & Journalist.
    See event profile: https://climateemergencysummit.org/matters-of-facts-event-profile/

    From time interval 0:04:04: David Spratt – Research Director at Breakthrough National Centre For Climate Restoration

    From time interval 0:24:57: Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick – Climate Scientist, UNSW Sydney

    From time interval 0:40:04: Sir David King – Former Chief Scientific Adviser for the United Kingdom

    From time interval 1:02:16: Q&A session

    ‘Gradualism’ will no longer work. Climate disruption is inevitable – it’s already manifesting and escalating. Either humanity takes effective and timely action to mitigate and avoid the worst effects, or risk the existential disruptions of civilisation collapse later this century.

  16. Have to disagree with you Ronald.

    It seems clear that we are NOT going to see any meaningful action by our present LNP coalition political leaders to mitigate the impacts of human induced climate change within the remaining life-tiime of many of the readers of this blog.

    Jonathan Swift wrote in 1738 – ‘There’s none so blind as they that
    won’t see’. He was referring to people who, despite possessing full knowledge of the facts of a matter and the true situation, nonetheless deliberately choose to ignore that information.

    That pretty much sums up the LNP. They’ve known for a while that man-made climate change is plainly to be seen on a world wide basis but still treat it as a problem of such little significance that it may as well not exist at all.

    Labour leader Anthony Albanese aptly summed up Scomo’s pretense of intending to take unknown action at some unknown future date as nothing but ‘Smirks and mirrors’

    You may have noticed too how Scomo describes Australian net zero carbon emission goals as ‘ambitious’. That’s possibly an allusion to the wording in the Protocol itself which, although adopting a goal of 1.5% reduction, did ‘suggest’ that a more ‘ambitious’ goal’ of 2% be aimed for.

    Sorry Ronald, I think your optimism regarding a change in attitude by the LNP leadership regarding cliimate change matters is probably unjustified.

    Nothing has changed.

  17. Geoff Miell says

    Confused by carbon budgets for the Paris climate goals? So were David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, so they went looking for some straight-talking answers.

    What they found is not what most policymakers and advocates propose.

    Read their recently published Briefing Note titled “Carbon Budgets for 1.5 & 2°C” at: https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/briefings

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