After a week of relentless argy-bargy from the Nationals, PM Scott Morrison on Sunday pinned down something that resembles a 2050 net zero target to take to the COP26 conference in Glasgow next week.

It should, even with all the necessary caveats, feel like a win. But at The Fifth Estate, the excitement was muted.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that a 2050 target amounts to booting the can way down the highway. It’s the reductions by 2030 that really matter, and it’s already clear there’s little chance of upping the pathetic 26-28 per cent cut on 2005 levels by 2030 that was installed under Tony Abbott.

Everyone knows 2050 is too late and that ambitious interim targets are needed. Even the recently promoted NSW Treasurer and Environment Minister Matt Kean was calling on Morrison to bring the interim target in line with the more ambitious targets set by the states and territories, curtly noting that “[a] projection without a target for 2030 basically says we don’t take climate change seriously.”

A lacklustre interim target will also cost us. The Business Council of Australia recently released modelling by Deloitte Access Economics that tallied up the economic benefits of introducing a 46 per cent target for 2030 and a net zero target for 2050, which The Australia Institute has kindly compared to similar modelling done by the consulting giant last year that shows the benefits of a 2050 net zero target without a more ambitious 2030 target.

The comparison of the two figures found that a more ambitious 2030 target has a net present value of $210 billion.

“Scott Morrison is using climate change as an excuse to shovel taxpayer money to the National Party in exchange for them ruling out any early reforms,” Dr Richard Denniss, chief economist of the Australia Institute, said.

“They are asking for billions of dollars in compensation despite the fact that they have not provided a single piece of evidence that a more ambitious 2030 target will hurt anything other than their egos.”

The Nat’s watering-down job is certainly helping to spoil the mood. Barnaby and co have already scored themselves another seat in cabinet for resources minister Keith Pitt and $3 billion to extend its inland rail line that’s sole purpose will be to increase coal exports from the Surat Basin in Queensland. This rail project will cut emissions by taking trucks off the road, Joyce reckons.

And who knows what other surprises will emerge from last week’s tussling behind closed doors?

Also, on the table was carving out methane emissions or agriculture entirely, with New Zealand’s treatment of cow burps referenced as inspiration. The Kiwi’s target, which certainly doesn’t let farmers off the hook entirely, does allow a lower target for biogenic methane.

Even with all that in mind, we wonder if there’s something deeper going on in the collective psyches of everyone from the green shade of politics, a sort of suspended disbelief that the long-awaited, extremely logical and morally imperative action on climate change is finally materialising.

Or maybe it’s our acceptance that the work is already well and truly underway to transition the economy in the absence of a national target or coherent policy on climate.

Many people stopped waiting for a net zero target a long time ago. In the built environment, which is responsible for 39 per cent of emissions, the industry has been lowering its operating emissions over the years and is now turning its attention to the embodied emissions in building materials.

With that, we’ll take our measly win and leave the psychoanalysis up to the experts.

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  1. No need to search or wait for the couch, just face reality.

    The fact is that apart from the special provisions granted to Federal Government under the Snowy Scheme, the Federal Government has never been responsible for generating electricity or for the provision of gas to the industrial and domestic markets. It is not and never has been responsible for the ‘grids’ to distribute both. It has always, under the Constitution, been the responsibility of State Governments to provide both.
    Following the example of Hawke and Keating in the eighties in selling off the people’s assets and in the interests of the free market economy or Thatcherism, State Governments of all persuasions, with the exception of Western Australia, decided to sell all or part of their power generation and grid assets to private enterprise and in so doing lost control of that market.
    The result was and still is, that the power generation in this country (with the exception of WA) is jointly owned within a listed corporate structures by Australian and overseas shareholders (particularly Chinese) and State Governments. The same applies to the ‘grids’ only more so.
    It is now a matter of fact that the top ten emitters of CO2 in this country account for nearly 50% of all emissions and they are all companies that generate electricity and they are owned by shareholders and State Governments. They burn coal and gas and provide Australians with some of the most expensive electricity in the world. See: That 50% of all emissions generates ~ 70% of the power used in this country.
    Apart from nationalisation, which would be expensive, the Federal Government has no control over these companies other than taxation. Nationalisation has never worked anyway, anywhere.
    There is talk of a carbon tax to cause or persuade these high emitters to change. The reality is that when costs go up, the price to the end user increases to protect profit for the shareholders. A carbon tax might/ could be designed/intended to persuade generators to switch to RE. That opportunity is already there through billions of dollars of subsidies being paid by the taxpayers of Australia to both the fossil fuel generators and to those building RE generators and in spite of those subsidies, which are never calculated into the retail price of electricity, the retail price of electricity in Australia remains among the highest in the world — why is that?
    The third option for the fossil fuel generators is to declare their assets as worn out and exit the market with the approval of the shareholders of course. I can’t see that happening given the current share prices. I think they, the shareholders will hang in there so long as there is a quid in it, all generated by high retail prices and subsidies. The only thing that will change them will be market force, competition and that has not happened so far, in spite of subsidies — they still control ~70% of the market.
    I am of the view that it is time that those with the real responsibility for our high emissions, the private enterprise generators, stood up and took responsibility for the emissions generated by their companies. They should tell us why, in spite of the subsidies given to them by the people of Australia, they have chosen to change at a pace, which is for many, far from satisfactory and has given Australia, all Australians and the Prime Minister and Federal Government an invidious international image. They should tell the world that this is how democracy and free markets work in Australia.
    The Prime Minister is going to Glasgow to commit Australia to zero by 2050, we understand and there is also pressure for him to increase our current commitment by 2030. As the federal government has no control over the companies who generate 50% of our national emissions I wonder how he is going to do that?
    I am of the view that the Chairs and the CEOs of those ten top emitters should be in Glasgow and tell the world how they, on behalf of their shareholders many of whom are ‘mum and dad shareholders’ are going to meet the target of zero by 2050 and what the cost will be.
    They should also tell us, the taxpayers of Australia, what they will pay for their product over the years leading to 2050, if they can commit to reduce emissions, they must also know what it will cost.
    Recognising that the Federal Government is limited in what it can do to manipulate the current market, what else can the government do? The answers are obvious. I am sure there are more:
    • Fund R&D submissions for emission reduction technology through our world beating CSIRO either in a JV with private enterprise or on their own.
    • Support the WA government and other governments in their ambitions to manufacture green hydrogen.
    • Support the Federal Government in supporting Dr A Forrest and his ambitions for manufacturing green hydrogen. (maybe someone could write an article for TC to scrutinise Forrest’s plans for green hydrogen?)
    • Continue to subsidise the generation of power from all sources to ensure the lights stay on.
    • Call an industry summit and obtain commitments for emissions reduction from those who are in and those who aspire to be power generators and demand to know what the product will cost the people and the industries of Australia.