Australia’s annual emissions have dropped about 14 per cent since 2005 but have slowed in recent years to less than 1 per cent, with a major new source of emissions emerging in liquefied natural gas exports from Queensland.
The federal government’s “technology not taxes” approach is focused on supporting research and development to speed up low emissions technology and, in turn, encourage industry take-up.
Mr Morrison said this week he wants to reach net zero “as quickly as possible” but it would be “very deceptive” to set a deadline without being able to explain how much it would cost to transfer to lower emissions technology.
“Until such time as we can be very clear with the Australian people about what the cost of that is and how that plan can deliver on that commitment, it would be very deceptive on the Australian people and not honest with them to make such commitments,” he said.
However, industry and experts are calling for a 2050 net zero deadline – which they say must be backed by procurement policies to increase demand for low emissions products.
Peak industry representative groups the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia have called for government to commit to a net-zero 2050 deadline.
Chief executive of the ClimateWorks thinktank, Anna Skarbek, said “industry sectors are ready and willing to move towards net-zero and are looking for support in doing that”.
Ms Skarbek said the government’s support for new technology was “very important”, but enabling policies are needed to maximise the rate of emissions reduction and investment in clean technology.
She said governments could set quotas for green steel in public infrastructure projects or low emissions standards for commercial real estate.
Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said there were three paths countries could follow to reach net-zero emissions.
“You could just hold emissions where they are and drop them massively at the last minute, there’s a process of stepping down slowly and making incremental progress, or there’s a process where you rapidly drop emissions in the areas where it’s easy, and give yourself more time to work on other bits that are harder,” Mr Baxter said.
“The very best climate policies will use the third option. In Australia that means going really hard in the electricity sector – like we’ve seen NSW do recently.”
Mr Baxter said if Australia’s emissions followed the current path it would hit net-zero by 2393.
“Government’s current plans see emissions from Australia staying basically the same for the next 10 years. It’s certainly not the rapid reductions that are possible and desirable.”
Australian National University Climate Change Institute professor Mark Howden said Australia had made a “significant start on its emissions reductions, but it’s not enough”.
“The downwards trajectory since 2005 is largely a combination of legislation from the Howard government to restrict land clearing and the carbon price by the Gillard government (from 2012 to 2014).”
Australia has committed under the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 per cent, based on 2005 levels, by 2030. On the current trajectory it will have to draw on 411 megatonnes of ‘carryover credits’ which were accrued by overachieving on the emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto protocol.
Australia is the only country that has said it intends to use carryover credits for its Paris target. If carryover credits were counted towards Australia’s net-zero goal they would deliver roughly a 30 per cent reduction in annual emissions for three years before they were exhausted.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.