By Kalinga Seneviratne
SYDNEY (IDN) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison returned to Canberra on November 5 after presenting a “plan” to the UN climatic summit COP 26, which he claims will help Australia to reach a Net Zero strategy that will reduce emissions, protect regional communities, and meet an emissions reduction strategy consistent with science. But, environmental organisations, opposition leader and Australia’s Green MPs have described the plan as a “plan without a plan”.
In a statement released on their website, Australian Greens Leader Adam Bandt says: “Scott Morrison’s 2050 plan is a climate fraud” and there is no detailed plan, “just a rehash of last year’s Technology Roadmap, and up to half of the claimed emission reduction relies on offsets, accounting tricks and unproven technology”.
The Greens—who could hold the balance of power in federal parliament after an election due early 2022—have slammed the PM’s refusal to sign up alongside its allies the European Community (EU) and the United States (US) for the methane reduction pledge. The pledge commits nations to reduce global methane gas emissions by 30 percent on 2020 levels by 2030, which could significantly reduce global warming.
Australia’s refusal is mainly due to the fear that such a pledge could undermine its meat industry as both cattle and sheep grazing contribute heavily to methane gas emissions. Australia’s red meat and livestock industry makes a significant contribution to the Australian economy. In 2018-19, the red meat and livestock industry contributed $13 billion to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and as of June 2019, 24.7 million grain-fed cattle and 65.8 million sheep were raised in Australia, according to industry group Meat and Livestock Australia statistics.
Australia’s energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, acknowledged in a media interview before heading for Glasgow that signing up to the methane pledge would mean cutting meat industry herd numbers. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who heads the National Party that represents rural farmers and grazers, and is a government coalition partner, told the media here that the only way to meet the targets in the methane pledge would be “to start shooting your cattle”.
At Glasgow, Australia has also refused to sign on to an agreement to stop investing in new coal plants at home and abroad, and to phase out coal-fired power generation before the end of the 2030s. About 70 nations have signed the agreement, but Australia joined huge coal producers and users like China, India and the US in refusing to join agreement. Coal-powered generation accounts for over 35 percent of the global electric power supply.
“Today I think we can say the end of coal is in sight,” COP 26 chair Alok Sharma said after the signing of the agreement, but Australia may not see it that way. In June this year, a multi-billion-dollar Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, operated by India’s Adani Group, struck coal for the first time and it is expected to start operations soon to export coal to India. The company is completing a 200km rail line to connect the mine to the port and it is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of coal a year for export with a lifespan of 60 years.
Since 2014 there has been a concerted campaign across Australia by environmentalists to stop the mine. Though the project is unpopular in urban electorates, it is popular among the rural voters of Queensland where the company has promised to create over 7000 new jobs once fully operational. Morrison’s narrow federal election victory in 2019 is attributed to voter swings towards his party in these Queensland electorates.
In his address to COP 26, Morrison compared the fight against climatic change to the fight against COVID-19 pandemic where technology (vaccines) helped to overcome it. “It will be our scientists, our technologists, our engineers, our entrepreneurs, our industrialists and our financiers that will actually chart the path to net zero. And it is up to us as Leaders of governments to back them in,” he told the audience in Glasgow.
“Technology will have the answers to a decarbonised economy, particularly over time,” he added. “Driving down the cost of technology and enabling it to be adopted at scale is at the core of the Australian Way to reach our target of net zero emissions by 2050 that we are committing to at this COP26.”
Morrison, sounding more like a salesperson for Australian technology companies, said that Australia’s plan is to set cost targets for clean hydrogen, low cost solar, low carbon steel and aluminium, energy storage, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon. “We’re not starting from scratch—90 per cent of commercial solar cells globally use Australian technology. Australia has the best rates of rooftop solar in the world,” he pointed out, adding, “our installation of renewables is eight times faster than the global rate and three times faster than some of the most advanced economies in Europe. We have already reduced emissions by more than 20 per cent since 2005”.
Australia has invested heavily in these technologies, but sceptics could see Australia’s actions at COP26 as yet another selfish attempt by a rich country, not to make sacrifices, but buy time to benefit by developing new technologies that could be sold to the rest of the world at a price like what pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have done with COVID-19 vaccines.
Morrison hinted at such a technology marketing strategy, when he said in his speech: “Looking forward we are forging technology partnerships domestically and abroad—with Singapore, Germany, the UK, Japan, Korea and Indonesia—and we are close to concluding one with India. Australia is investing over 20 billion dollars over the next decade to drive the transition, leveraging private sector investment to reach 80 billion dollars in total.”
In a vision statement released prior to COP26, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources indicated that among the goals set for development of Australian green technology are producing clean hydrogen for under $2 per kilogram; low-emission steel production under $900 per tonne; low-emission aluminium under $2700 per tonne; and electricity from storage for firming under $100 per MWh.
Morrison was forced to defend his government’s climatic plan presented in Glasgow when criticism mounted here over prominence of a fossil fuel company branding at the Australian stall at COP26. A model of a carbon-capture project by oil and gas giant Santos was displayed at the front of Australia’s pavilion at the Glasgow summit. The $162 million project, to be based in Moomba in South Australia, it was announced on November 2, could receive carbon credit revenue from taxpayers.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who has also travelled to Glasgow, said in a statement, “the official Australia pavilion here at COP26 has been handed over to gas giant Santos, a symbol the Morrison government is more interested in keeping the fossil fuel companies happy rather than working with other world leaders to increase climate action”.
The Australian plan is based on development of technology without making any political commitment to change laws or regulations to change lifestyles to curb global warming gas emissions. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese criticised the plan, saying it contained no new policies. “Scott Morrison left it to the last possible minute to outline a scam that leaves everything to the last possible minute,” he said in a media statement. “The word plan doesn’t constitute a plan, no matter how often (Morrison) said it. As always, with this Prime Minister, it is all about marketing.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 November 2021]
Photo: Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers Australia’s statement to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, on 1 November 2021. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Sydney Morning Herald)
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