TThe International Energy Agency has produced a groundbreaking report on how the world can meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal of limiting warming to 1.5 ° C. In particular, it shows, from the IEA’s perspective, how the energy system can reach net zero by 2050.
It contains two very important frontline messages.
First, the way to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and to limit warming to 1.5 ° C remains open, but, as we all know, the window is closing on that opening unless action is taken. is quickly accelerated.
Second, to get there, all new investment and infrastructure in fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas – must stop. Not next year, not in 2030, but today: 2021. And what is essential here is that this statement does not come from an activist organization, but from the world’s leading – and very conservative – energy adviser. .
For those of us in the science and energy policy community who work on these issues – and indeed for others who pay attention – none of these findings should be surprising or shocking.
What’s really shocking is the reaction of the Morrison government, a government that seems to bet Australia’s farm, economy and international standing in a broader sense – betting the world will turn away from the deal. of Paris and growing globalization. momentum towards limiting emissions to net zero by 2050.
On the same day the IEA report was released, the federal government announced it was set to pay $ 600 million into a new gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley. Climate change implications aside, all advice given to the government, from its science adviser to the Australian operator of the energy market, has admitted that new gas plants would be more expensive.
Around the world, it is of course understood that renewables and storage are much cheaper than coal and gas, not least because its fuel (sun, wind, waves, water) is free, and in Australia it is is truer than in most other places. The government maintains that the Kurri Kurri plant will cut costs for consumers, while most energy analysts argue the opposite.
The world is moving away from fossil fuels, as evidenced by almost daily announcements from the investment community when the bank after announcing new divestment policies from these climate-changing fuels.
The Asian Development Bank’s announcement that it will no longer finance coal in the region is the most recent. We also have the European Investment Bank, which announced some time ago that it would not finance coal projects and that it was also abandoning gas. These government-backed public banks moving away from fossil fuels also undermine investments by private institutions, which rely on large public banks to support their investments.
Along with banks, we are also seeing insurance companies and retirement investment funds moving away from fossil fuels. In 2019, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), announced it would no longer fund oil and gas, having already abandoned coal.
Globally, there is a big step towards countries setting zero goals and improving their targets for 2030, the main focus of international efforts this year ahead of the Glasgow climate summit in November. The Morrison government has shown little or no sign of serious involvement in this effort.
It is not an academic and political board game without consequences. About three-quarters of Australia’s LNG and coal markets now aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050, or at the latest before 2060. And each of them is taking action to reduce its emissions by 2030, this which will have rapid effects on the coal market. and also for LNG.
Industry or government cannot assume that the transition from thermal coal will be to LNG. For other markets, governments are working to replace coal or gas with green hydrogen or other carbon-free alternatives.
Meanwhile, in Australia all systems are working for coal – and for gas, again, out of step with the rest of the world. The government appears determined to make the country an international pariah, in addition to having to bear the brunt of increasingly damaging climate impacts, such as the potential loss of the Great Barrier Reef, bushfires and flooding.
So why is the Australian government refusing to respond to clear messages from one scientific and international energy agency and many others? Why does an Australian Prime Minister make a false statement after a false statement, whether it is Australia achieving and beating its goals (it is not) or Australia is a world leader (the opposite is true), that building a 600 megawatt gas plant at Kurri Kurri will lower energy prices (most analysts say no and renewables are cheaper). Why is the Australian government willing to bet the farm and the country that the world will not implement the Paris agreement?
The common thread in all of this seems to be the disproportionate influence of the fossil fuel industry and its associates on government for an extended period of time. It’s not just the federal government – you can look for example at the government of Western Australia and its obsession with gas. In a broader sense, it is about the influence that the fossil fuel industry, supported by the Murdoch media and its climate denial, has had on Australian politics, on the two big parties.
The Morrison government is emerging as an extreme ideological representative of the fossil fuel industry and appears willingly willing to set aside Australia’s long-term interests in favor of protecting the industry’s short-term concerns. Malcolm Turnbull has colorfully described this as “ideology and idiocy,” and it sure is, but with a caveat on the side of idiocy as the Morrison government is clearly effective at transferring large volumes of data. taxpayer money to support the fossil fuel industry and carbon-intensive activities in general, at the expense of the clean energy transition we all need and will all benefit from.