Scott Morrison has told senior business leaders his government may not need carryover credits to meet its emissions reduction targets, because he is “confident our policies will get this job done”.
The prime minister addressed the Business Council of Australia virtually on Thursday night – one of many organisations that has championed Australia adopting a net zero emissions reduction target by 2050, a target the Coalition has resisted.
The BCA, which represents Australia’s largest companies, has also argued that Australia, if possible, should meet its 2030 emissions targets without relying on carryover credits from the Kyoto period.
On Thursday night, Morrison characterised the carryover credits from the Kyoto period as analogous to “getting ahead on your mortgage repayments”.
But in a signal the government is backing away from the accounting loophole, the prime minister said “my ambition is that we will not need them and we are working to this as our goal, consistent with our record of over-delivering”.
“I am confident our policies will get this job done,” the prime minister said. “I hope to have more to say about this before the end of the year as we update our emissions projections to take into account new policies and measures.”
The federal environment department has said it is not aware of any countries other than Australia planning to use the controversial carryover credits to meet international climate commitments.
Official government emissions projections released in December last year found the country was not on track to meet its 2030 target submitted under the Paris climate agreement unless it used the credits.
Australia’s target is a 26%-28% cut below 2005 levels. According to the projections, emissions are expected to be only 16% below 2005 levels by 2030 unless credits are counted.
Since last year emissions have fallen due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but analysts expect that drop to be short-lived.
The government has announced a low-emissions technology strategy, which it claims will “avoid” 250m tonnes of emissions a year by 2040. It has not explained how that forecast was reached. The “stretch goals” the government has set for five technologies are not tied to a publicly released timeframe or emissions reduction trajectory.
Australia has faced sustained international pressure about its use of carryover credits. It was strongly opposed by dozens of countries at last year’s climate conference in Madrid, and experts said there was no legal basis for their use under the Paris agreement, given it had no relationship to the Kyoto protocol.
Before Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the US presidential election – a development expected to increase diplomatic pressure on Australia to lift its emissions reduction ambitions – the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, also raised net zero in a private conversation with Morrison.
Morrison later declared the British government understood that Australia’s mid-century emissions reduction targets would not be set by London or by Europe, because Johnson embarked on his own act of “sovereignty” by withdrawing the UK from the European Union.
Morrison has faced pressure from business for months to adopt a net zero target by mid-century – pressure he has been resisting without ever ruling out adopting the commitment.
But the prime minister’s language on net zero has warmed up noticeably since the Biden victory. Morrison told the BCA Australia wanted to “reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible” and achieve decarbonisation through technology, “not taxes” – even though no one is proposing a carbon tax.
But Morrison continued to say he would not adopt the 2050 commitment “unless I can tell them how we will achieve it, and what this will cost”.
“We are actively working through these considerations right now, including how our practical, technology based approach can get us there,” the prime minister said.
The government is pursuing other energy policies that affect Australia’s climate commitments without outlining the total costs either in dollars or emissions.
The government has been foreshadowing a “gas-led” recovery without costing the foreshadowed interventions, which include opening new gas basins, and potentially underwriting new infrastructure.
The October budget included funding of $52.9m to unlock more supply of gas and boost transport infrastructure – but the government has also held open the option of taxpayer underwriting for priority gas projects, streamlining approvals or creating special purpose vehicles for new investment.
The government has also never produced any analysis quantifying the costs of climate inaction.
A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics found that Australia’s economy would be 6% smaller if the climate crisis went unchecked for the next 50 years, with 880,000 fewer jobs and $3.4tn in lost economic opportunities.
The same analysis found policies consistent with a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and keeping global warming to 1.5C could expand the Australian economy by 2.6%, or $680bn, and create 250,000 jobs.
Scott Morrison signals retreat on using carryover credits to meet emissions targets The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Guardian.