Ignore, defend and pretend: Scott Morrison’s G7 climate strategy is embarrassing | Bill Hare

, Ignore, defend and pretend: Scott Morrison’s G7 climate strategy is embarrassing | Bill Hare, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

Scott Morrison has a lot to defend at the G7 in the UK this weekend, and so much to ignore: he has announced – from the relative safety of Perth – that he will not stand for countries demanding higher climate ambition from Australia.

At the same time he has gone on the front foot and again made claims that Australia is leading the world on climate action, arguing it has done more than the United States, UK, Canada, New Zealand and others since 2005.

The data tells a different story.

Australia has relied heavily on its choice of base year in 2005, when land-use emissions were very high, to “achieve” emission reductions relative to that year. In round terms, because of the drop in land-use change emissions since 2005, the country’s emissions decreased by around 17% by 2020. If one unpacks this to reveal the real source of underlying growth in emissions, the picture is very different.

Taking out land-use change and forestry, emissions grew between 2005 and 2019 (prior to the Covid-19 emission dip) to about 5% above 2005 levels. Over this period, Canada had essentially no change in these emissions, the US and Japan had a 10% drop, the EU27 a 17% reduction and the UK a 33% reduction.

An even clearer picture emerges when one takes out the emissions from the electricity sector. The renewables sector, which now stands at 24% of power production, has only grown by virtue of the renewable energy target, which the Coalition tried and failed to remove, state government policies, and the rapidly declining cost of renewables and battery storage displacing fossil fuel generation. It’s happened in spite of the Coalition’s policies.

So if one takes out emissions from the electricity sector and land use, emissions from all other sectors are projected to increase by close to 14% by 2030 above 2005 levels. Why? Because there are simply no policies in Australia to address emissions outside of the power sector. Nothing. Zip.

There is a very high expectation from the UK host and from the US and others that Australia should step up its overall ambition for 2030.

While Morrison may try to claim we are in the lead with our targets, once again the real data tells us otherwise. If one compares countries’ 2030 targets, again, the picture is really quite remarkable.

Australia’s ambition for 2030 is less than half of the average reduction of the other developed countries attending the G7. Including land-use emissions, Australia’s proposed reduction by 2030 below 2018 levels is about 17%. Reductions by 2030 of the other developed countries attending the G7 are in the range from 39 to 50%.

The Australian government loves to talk about trends in per capita emissions, cherry-picking data which would put it in a glowing light. But the atmosphere doesn’t really care about per capita emissions, it only cares about absolute emissions reductions.

But let us once again look at the data that really matters: how does Australia’s per capita emissions reduction compare with its counterparts between 2018 and 2030? It is only about 50% of the average of the other developed countries attending the G7: only about a 24% reduction compared with an average of 47%.

Arriving in Cornwall, Scott Morrison will step into a meeting of major economies that are all taking significant steps to curb climate change, whereas all of his major steps on energy have been to prop up the fossil fuel industry, with only a vague nod to net zero some time in the future, “preferably by 2050”.

He’s refused to increase the 2030 target, and refused to commit to net zero. His peers at this meeting will know this, despite the bluster he will put up. All have committed to deeper 2030 targets and to achieve net zero by 2050. In this setting Morrison will be the odd man out, and perhaps the best thing the rest of us back in Australia can hope for is that he leaves his lump of parliamentary coal at home for the occasion.

He’s walking into a meeting where his host, UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has made climate change the top priority and pretty much everyone in the room will be asking Morrison what he’s doing.

What will the G7 leaders make of his claims that Australia is a world leader in per capita terms on renewable electricity rollout, pointing at the massive rate of rooftop solar installation? Once again, what matters are the big numbers at the whole economy level, not anecdotes: Australia’s five-year rate of renewable energy rollout in the power sector is roughly in the middle of the range of the developed countries at the G7.

The bigger issue is what is happening to the decarbonisation of our entire energy sector, and the data points to a very slow level of major change. For 20 years or more, renewables have sat at about 6-7% of our total primary energy supply, and this has now crept up to about 8.5% on the back of increased renewables in our power sector.

Morrison says he’ll argue that nobody has the right to tell Australia to set targets and timetables to cut emissions, despite the fact Australia agreed to do just that when it signed up to the Paris agreement. And in Paris Australia agreed with everybody else to upgrade its 2030 target with high ambition in 2020, a process now deferred until Glasgow later this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will be seen for what it is – in polite terms “free-riding”; back at home in Australia we call it “bludging”.

He’ll have to continue to ignore the Paris agreement-compatible 1.5C energy scenarios, the latest being from the International Energy Agency, that say the world has to phase out the use of coal at the latest by 2040, and phase out gas by around 2050. The IEA has also no new fossil fuel investments from this year if we are to meet the 1.5C limit. Yet Morrison’s government is pushing a gas-led recovery, both domestically and internationally. The IEA net zero report shows Australian LNG exports peaking in the mid-2020s and on the decline by 2030 to low levels in the following decade or so. If Paris is properly implemented, the gas and coal export industry is going to just dry up.

Morrison will argue against any carbon border adjustment mechanism such as that proposed by the European parliament, knowing that without a national price on carbon, all Australian exports will be vulnerable to such a tax.

He’ll also have to pretend he didn’t see the Dutch court rule that global oil giant Shell has to cut its emissions by 45% by 2030, the same company that’s Australia’s second-largest gas exporter. This is likely to have large and adverse impacts on the appetite of investors in fossil fuel-intensive companies and projects.

In going to the G7 and railing against increased ambition on climate change, Morrison is going against the tide of history and science and will – wittingly or not – be seen as undermining an essential global movement towards real lasting and ambitious action on climate change. The US climate envoy, John Kerry, has said, and I very much agree with him, that this is our last best moment to take sufficient action to limit warming to 1.5C and the targets we adopt by 2030 will be determining.

To have Australia emerge at this moment in history as a nation so obsessed with its internal climate wars that its leader will ride into action at the G7 on behalf of coal and gas industries whose time has come is more than embarrassing. He needs to read the room.

, Ignore, defend and pretend: Scott Morrison’s G7 climate strategy is embarrassing | Bill Hare, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

Bill Hare, a physicist and climate scientist, is the managing director of Climate Analytics

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