As Australia’s contribution to the Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, the Turnbull government has gallantly committed to reducing our CO2 emissions by 26%-to-28% of 2005 levels by 2030. It is important to note that we are already at 0.8C warming so we, the world that is, has only got 1.2C to play with. We claim that we only contribute 1.3% of global emissions so, logically, our aim should presumably be to chip in at least 0.016C of cooling.
So somewhere in our great bureaucracy there must be a calculation that shows that reducing our total emissions by 26% (or 155MtCO2e) will achieve this aim. Or so you would hope.
Let me digress slightly but bear with me. Recently, The Australian editorialized (www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/editorials/take-the-politicking-out-of-infrastructure-projects/news-story/41e1b27bda05b884949a5e2bd8de4ca9) on the topic of the politicization of infrastructure development. That editorial quoted Philip Davies, outgoing head of Infrastructure Australia:
Too often we see commitments being made to projects before a business case has been prepared, a full set of options has been considered and rigorous analysis of a potential project’s benefits and costs has been undertaken.
Too right! The Australian editorial used the NBN as the most flagrant example of this malaise. But it occurs to me that, while not strictly an infrastructure project per se, our Paris Agreement commitment puts the NBN in the shade in this respect.
Nowhere in all of the Turnbull/Frydenberg propaganda – in speeches, press releases, fact sheets or any publicly available documentation on government web site – is the figure of 0.016C mentioned, or any other temperature goal. There is a total disconnect between the stated aim of the Paris Agreement and our CO2 emissions reduction target. In fact, politically, it could not be otherwise because that would drag the naked emperor into full, pitiless sunlight. However, I am not concerned with politics but good governance, something which is conspicuously missing in this debacle.
Here I wish to take on the role of Devil’s Advocate. Let’s, for the moment, accept the CAGW hypothesis, as the government has done, and look at the emissions data.
The starting point has to be 2005, when total emissions were 597MtCO2e. The current projection for 2030 is for total emissions of 570 MtCO2e. Therefore, to achieve a reduction of 26% of 2005 levels we will have to cut 155MtCO2e from this figure of 570.
Let’s have a look at the figures by sector. Government projections for 2030 are:
Electricity is the big one and subject of all the current focus, courtesy of the much vaunted NEG. The Turnbull government has (supposedly) structured the NEG to achieve a 26% reduction in the electricity sector. The rationale therefore seems to be pro rata reductions across all sectors to achieve the total 26% target. Just how those 26% reductions in agriculture or transport, for example, are to be achieved seems to be clouded in mystery. All the focus and government intervention so far has been on electricity, and the strategy for the other sectors, for now at least, appears to be the simple hope they will develop their own abatement measures.
So, under the plan, CO2 reductions in the electricity sector would amount to some 45MtCO2e, leaving a further 110MtCO2e to be provided from the other sectors. Labor claims, with some justification if you believe all the hype about renewables (which I don’t, but bear with me), that the electricity sector has the capability to do more of the heavy lifting – that a mere 26% reduction in that sector alone puts unwarranted pressure on, say, agriculture.
They may have even more ammunition, since The Australian also reports:
…a revelation by the designers of the NEG that the energy sector will have achieved a 24 per cent cut to 2005-level emissions by the time the policy gets under way, meaning power companies will be able to fully offset the remaining 2 per cent emissions cut they are required to make by 2030.
Believe that when you see it, but if the government’s own agency touts this line who could argue that there is no room for further cuts?
Which brings me to agriculture and transport. Despite what I said earlier, there have been murmurings about future interventions in these sectors such as mandating vehicle emissions standards that no useful vehicle currently on the road can come within a bull’s roar of meeting and serious culling of livestock herds. And it’s hard to see how an additional 110MtCO2e reduction can be squeezed out of these sectors without such blanket measures.
While the NEG bunfight is ongoing, government will not want to spend any political capital on these dogs. I am guessing these types of initiatives (herd-culling etc) are likely to attract a lot more push back than rising electricity prices and so the government will run dead on this for as long as it possibly can. No need to let the little people get upset until there is a slick PR campaign in place to persuade them that ruining all pillars of the economy, not just power, is a really good idea.
Labor is pushing for 50% in the electricity sector as part of a 50% overall target and the government has now agreed to a mechanism to review the 26% NEG target in 2024. By my reckoning, iIt’s looking increasingly likely the NEG will not get up, even with such a concession.
The Turnbull government will be fighting the next election on the NEG and it will be on a hiding to nothing. The NEG is inherently contradictory. How can you say, as Turnbull and Frydenberg frequently do, that you are ‘technology neutral’ when the overriding aim of this dog of a policy is to drive fossil fuels out of business and, simultaneously and paradoxically, you refuse to countenance the use of zero-emission nuclear energy?
The Greens have a more defensible position than the Turnbull government on CAGW. No-one knows exactly what reductions will be needed to limit warming to 2C because no-one knows the value for climate sensitivity. So the Greens say let’s throw everything at it to make sure we maximize the chance of success. The government, meanwhile, signals that while it believes in CAGW, it isn’t prepared to do more than the minimum to make Australia appear as virtuous as any other nation prepared to ruin its economy for no good or demonstrated reason.
The glaring disconnect in this whole debacle is that the government has a commitment to reduce total CO2 emissions by 155MtCO2e by 2030, little more than ten years hence, yet it does not have a coherent plan of how to achieve 70% of that target.
And even if we bumble our way there, at who knows what outrageous cost, we still won’t know what cooling effect we will have had.