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.