Australia’s net-zero plan fails to tackle our biggest contribution to climate change: fossil fuel exports

1 November 2021   |  Climate Justice

The Morrison government’s eleventh hour commitment to net zero by 2050 is a monumental failure.

Critics rightly point out the government’s plan involves no increase to Australia’s 2030 climate target, no new funding or policies and few concrete details of how reductions will be achieved – except a heavy reliance on technological solutions not yet invented.

What we do know is not encouraging. The questionable focus on subsidising technologies such as carbon capture and storage seems designed to allow the fossil fuel industry to keep operating for decades to come. There is also no detail on how the promised jobs and economic growth will be achieved, nor any plan to legislate the projected reductions in emissions.

But the most glaring gap is a complete failure to tackle Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change: our coal, gas and oil exports. What’s more, the government’s “technology not taxes” mantra belies the fact taxpayers, not big business, will incur a multi-billion dollar bill for emissions reduction.

 

No net-zero without exports

The government’s plan contains no credible strategy to reduce the enormous emissions produced by Australia’s fossil fuel industry, especially the export industry.

Australia’s fossil fuel exports have more than doubled since 2005. We are the world’s largest exporter of metalurgical coal and the third largest exporter of fossil fuels overall.

The Morrison government’s eleventh hour commitment to net zero by 2050 is a monumental failure.

Critics rightly point out the government’s plan involves no increase to Australia’s 2030 climate target, no new funding or policies and few concrete details of how reductions will be achieved – except a heavy reliance on technological solutions not yet invented.

What we do know is not encouraging. The questionable focus on subsidising technologies such as carbon capture and storage seems designed to allow the fossil fuel industry to keep operating for decades to come. There is also no detail on how the promised jobs and economic growth will be achieved, nor any plan to legislate the projected reductions in emissions.

But the most glaring gap is a complete failure to tackle Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change: our coal, gas and oil exports. What’s more, the government’s “technology not taxes” mantra belies the fact taxpayers, not big business, will incur a multi-billion dollar bill for emissions reduction.

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Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor
On Tuesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor officially announced Australia’s comittment to net zero by 2050. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

No net-zero without exports

The government’s plan contains no credible strategy to reduce the enormous emissions produced by Australia’s fossil fuel industry, especially the export industry.

Australia’s fossil fuel exports have more than doubled since 2005. We are the world’s largest exporter of metalurgical coal and the third largest exporter of fossil fuels overall.


Read more: Between the lines, Morrison’s plan has coal on the way out, with the future bright


The emissions caused by other countries burning Australia’s exported fossil fuels are more than double Australia’s domestic emissions.

Annual domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were around 494 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Yet the emissions from exported coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) alone were 1,073 million tonnes, according to my calculations using standard conversion factors. This is more than the emissions caused by the 2019-2020 bushfires.

For a net-zero plan not to include a strategy to phase out this enormous contribution to climate change is an abrogation of responsibility.

Australia is not responsible for all of the emissions produced by exported fossil fuels – after all other countries consume them. Still, Australia must take a high degree of responsibility given the billions of dollars in subsidies and environmental approvals that allow the industry to exist.

The Morrison government’s eleventh hour commitment to net zero by 2050 is a monumental failure.

Critics rightly point out the government’s plan involves no increase to Australia’s 2030 climate target, no new funding or policies and few concrete details of how reductions will be achieved – except a heavy reliance on technological solutions not yet invented.

What we do know is not encouraging. The questionable focus on subsidising technologies such as carbon capture and storage seems designed to allow the fossil fuel industry to keep operating for decades to come. There is also no detail on how the promised jobs and economic growth will be achieved, nor any plan to legislate the projected reductions in emissions.

But the most glaring gap is a complete failure to tackle Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change: our coal, gas and oil exports. What’s more, the government’s “technology not taxes” mantra belies the fact taxpayers, not big business, will incur a multi-billion dollar bill for emissions reduction.

Get news curated by experts, not algorithms.

No net-zero without exports

The government’s plan contains no credible strategy to reduce the enormous emissions produced by Australia’s fossil fuel industry, especially the export industry.

Australia’s fossil fuel exports have more than doubled since 2005. We are the world’s largest exporter of metalurgical coal and the third largest exporter of fossil fuels overall.


Read more: Between the lines, Morrison’s plan has coal on the way out, with the future bright


The emissions caused by other countries burning Australia’s exported fossil fuels are more than double Australia’s domestic emissions.

Annual domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were around 494 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Yet the emissions from exported coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) alone were 1,073 million tonnes, according to my calculations using standard conversion factors. This is more than the emissions caused by the 2019-2020 bushfires.

For a net-zero plan not to include a strategy to phase out this enormous contribution to climate change is an abrogation of responsibility.

Australia is not responsible for all of the emissions produced by exported fossil fuels – after all other countries consume them. Still, Australia must take a high degree of responsibility given the billions of dollars in subsidies and environmental approvals that allow the industry to exist.

Australia is the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter. Shutterstock

The supply of cheap, subsidised fossil fuels to global markets significantly worsens climate change, even if not all of the emissions from those exported fuels are Australia’s responsibility.

The government is asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking how it can reduce domestic emissions, it should be asking: what is Australia’s contribution to climate change and how can it be reduced? Given the combined emissions from Australia’s exported fossil fuels and domestic emissions are around 3-4% of global emissions, this must be addressed.

And there is clear evidence Australia’s fossil fuel industry will continue to enjoy strong support.


Read more: Morrison’s climate plan has 35% 2030 emissions reduction ‘projection’ but modelling underpinning 2050 target yet to be released


The net zero plan includes directing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to fund technologies like carbon capture and storage – the process of capturing carbon emissions from the source and storing in the ground – which will channel more taxpayer dollars into the fossil fuel industry.

The federal government also continues to grant approvals for new fossil fuel developments that will create millions of tonnes of CO₂ equivalent. This includes three new coal mines and a new major gas power plant in Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley.

These actions are not consistent with a real commitment to reducing Australia’s contribution to climate change.

 

This article originally appeared in The Conversation.