Albo’s Climate Target
On Sunday the ABC’s Insiders program was discussing Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s policy announcement that Labor would adopt the target of zero emissions by 2050 when panelist, Patricia Karvelas, announced she had just received a tweet from Malcolm Turnbull who was watching the show. Mr. Turnbull apparently said that if the 2050 target was not achieved the world would be uninhabitable. He also said that the technology was currently available to achieve the goal and according to Ms. Karvelas provided a list of the technology.
Mr. Turnbull apparently had not seen the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recent address to the National Press Club. In an oversight none of the panel mentioned the speech either. In that speech Dr. Finkel said that it was not currently technologically possible for renewables to produce more than 50% of the world’s energy needs because of limited supplies of copper and lithium.
The fact is that while it may be possible to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in Australia and the United Kingdom it cannot be achieved globally using present day technology. China, India and the United States produce 80% of the global emissions that need to be eliminated. None of them have agreed to the zero emissions target, so the fact that 73 other countries and all the Australian states and territories have adopted it, is of no real consequence.
In his interview with David Speers on Sunday’s Insiders, Mr Albanese made three things clear: firstly that it would be hard for Labor to set a 2030 target because that would only leave 8 years after the election for it to be met, secondly he didn’t see the target having a major impact on agriculture even though all sectors would be subject to it and finally he believed Australian coal exports would continue after 2050. He made a specific reference to coking coal, which is essential for steel production, but he didn’t rule out exporting thermal coal. This implies that major coal importers will not achieve zero emissions by 2050, which begs the question of what the policy is all about. He also ruled out a price on carbon.
At the present time Mr. Albanese is unable to reveal the cost of meeting his target. The Business Council of Australia is undertaking an analysis at the moment and has indicated that achieving the target will require investment of $22 billion a year for the next 30 years. This seems a bit light on. A British think tank has estimated that the UK’s move to zero emissions will cost $2 trillion in today’s money.
Given that Australia is an energy intensive and agricultural economy and emits 1.5 times as much CO2 as Britain, a rough guess is that commitment to zero emissions will cost Australia around $7 trillion over the next thirty years.
If the cost of a transition to zero emissions is anything like this we cannot afford to get it wrong. The waste would be prodigious. From this perspective we cannot afford Albo, ScoMo or some group of anonymous bureaucrats trying to pick the energy winners in a situation where some of the technology does not exist yet.
The only sensible approach is for the leaders of the major parties to adopt a technology neutral approach that provides a framework for all energy producers to operate in the market.