Emissions target expected today – 10 years wasted

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PM Turnbull and Chief Government Scientist Alan Finkel

Chief Government Scientist Alan Finkel is today expected to recommend that Australia adopts a Low Emissions Target to meet our Paris Climate Accord obligations.

The move is widely anticipated after the Federal Government ruled out the introduction of an Emissions Intensity Scheme.

The sad thing is that Australia has wasted ten precious years. Almost 10 years ago, former Prime Minister John Howard wanted to introduce a very similar policy. The only difference is that it was tougher. In a further twist of irony, it was incumbent PM Turnbull (then Environment Minister) and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane that announced the plan in September 2007.

At the time, the government announced a new Clean Energy Target requiring that 30,000 gigawatt hours each year come from low emissions sources by 2020. That equates to about 10 per cent of power generated.

The official line at the time was that low-emissions sources are those technologies that emit less than 200kg of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour of electricity generated, including renewable energy, such as solar and wind, as well as fossil fuel-fired electricity generation where carbon capture and storage is used. The CET was to replace all existing state and territory schemes and act in concert with an emissions trading scheme.

Emissions target proposed by Howard eclipses today’s efforts

Former Prime Minister John Howard

A decade later and the Howard proposal is still far bolder than anything likely to be adopted on today. The Howard baseline of 0.2 tonnes of carbon per megawatt hour, which defined low emissions, would be considered too severe in today’s political environment.

The Minerals Council has been pushing for 0.7 tonnes of carbon per megawatt hour because it would allow the inclusion of next-generation coal technology – carbon capture and storage (CCS) as well as high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) power stations. The Finkel review is has modelled several baselines but the final choice will be the government’s. That means excluding or including HELE and that’s where the politics will become tricky. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated that enabling HELE to qualify as low emissions would be one of his key requirements to lend support. If Mr Howard won the November 2007 election, Australia would have both an emissions trading scheme and a rigorous clean energy target and would be far more advanced in terms of energy transition and cleanliness. Instead, 10 years of intransigence has led to deteriorating infrastructure, skyrocketing prices and supply volatility. Watch this space….

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