Which side of history will the Morrison government be on when Glasgow is over?
The first week of the summit included digging in on fossil fuels and putting net zero through the spin cycle
As the climate talks in Glasgow reach their midpoint, it’s worth taking a look back at Australia’s extraordinary performance in the first week.
Fresh from the G20 meeting in Italy where he refused to agree to a ban on coal, the first thing Scott Morrison did upon arrival in Glasgow was a stand-up press conference, which barely mentioned the words climate change.
Next, he was up on the podium pronouncing his new net zero target as the best game in town, proudly proclaiming that Australia will overachieve its 2030 target, forgetting his climate informed audience was only too aware that without formally committing to increasing that target, it was pure spin.
It will not be lost on many that the 20% reduction he claims already is not the result of anything done by his government but rather due to the rollout of renewables in the power sector, which his government has opposed. Australia’s reductions by 2030 are likely to happen anyway due to state action.
Nor will it be overlooked that his net zero target appears not to be zero at all: the few hard numbers deeply embedded in his report suggest that Scott Morrison’s net zero is more like a 66% reduction by 2050 from 2005 levels.
For all of this, he won Australia’s first “Fossil of the Day” award from the Climate Action Network.
Another gross exaggeration in Morrison’s net zero is its strong reliance on storing carbon in agricultural soils, but scientific experts said that the amount of carbon the government was claiming could not physically be done.
Meanwhile, energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor got Australia’s second Fossil of the Day award by holding a press conference amid great hoo-ha with gas giant Santos to promote carbon capture and storage, a technology that continues to fail.
There is no better way to describe the significance of this by just pointing out that the amount of carbon that Santos proposes to capture per year is just 0.27% of Australia’s 2005 emissions. It will be used to produce even more gas and oil, and the government will subsidise it by assuming the long term liability for any release of carbon from its storage.
In Glasgow, Santos had pride of place at the Australian government’s official pavilion claiming, just like Morrison, to support the Paris agreement.
The Santos view is that a sustained shift to natural gas will significantly reduce greenhouse emissions and contribute to a lower carbon world, and that natural gas is expected to supply 25% of all global energy demand in 2040.
This might be correct if you want a 3C world, but in a world that is trying to limit warming to 1.5C and reach net zero by 2050, Santos is plain wrong.
We set out just how wrong in our report “Why Gas is the New Coal” out last week, finding that globally, natural gas was the largest source (42%) of fossil CO2 emissions increase in the decade to 2019, and projected to be the largest source of CO2 emissions increase under current policies to 2030.
Unfortunately for the “gas-led recovery”, in a 1.5C compatible world gas use must drop by more than 30% below 2020 levels by 2030, and 65% below 2020 levels by 2040.
On other key ways of reducing emissions – supposedly the entire purpose of Glasgow (a fact which seems to have completely escaped Scott Morrison) the UK government spent last week getting governments to sign up to major announcements like cutting methane and phasing out coal, neither of which Australia has signed up to.
In response to the methane pact, Angus Taylor threw red meat to his base, thundering that “What activists in Australia and elsewhere want is an end to the beef industry”.
But what those notorious climate activists Boris Johnson and Joe Biden really wanted for their methane pledge was far worse – they wanted the fossil fuel industry to actually do something to clean up their act.
Taylor’s “look over here” tactic was an obvious diversion from the fact that it’s the coal, oil and gas industry in Australia that would have to do the heavy lifting on methane by 2030. His article in the Australian also confirmed that it would indeed have a massive impact on oil and gas.
Fast forward a few days, true to form, the government announced its intention to open up 10 new blocks for offshore oil and gas exploration, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there’s a whole conference of people on the other side of the world trying desperately to keep warming to 1.5C. And yes, you guessed it, Australia got the hat trick, a third Fossil of the Day, the most of any country at Cop26 last week.
As we head into the second week of Glasgow, the pointy end of the negotiations, it’s becoming increasingly clear that 2030 climate targets will not keep the Paris 1.5C goal in sight. In response, many governments are calling for everyone to return next year at Cop27 for another round of stronger commitments, and to match this with increased climate finance.
There’s a lot of other important stuff on the table, including on how international offsets are to be handled to avoid double counting, that they contribute to real additional emission reductions and not just to corporate greenwashing.
It shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone watching the bravery of Morrison and his government on all the other important policy issues in Australia to learn that our energy and emissions reduction minister cut and ran after the first week including his little dance with Santos: this week, we’ll only be represented at the most important climate meeting since Paris by officials.
So, that was the first week of Glasgow for the Morrison government: digging in on massive new fossil fuel development, aligning itself with the gas industry, almost universally opposing the actions of its allies on reducing emissions, including deeper targets for 2030, and scarpering back to Canberra early. Not exactly the Australian way.