COP27: Australia promotes fossil fuels as pathway to carbon neutralityNov 24, 2022
It seems the Australian media still has to be told: COP 27 was a disaster and the glaring flaws in Australia’s grab bag of climate change policies were there to be exposed – if any reporters cared to do so.
The scandalous backsliding at COP 27 was all about gas – our policies about which represent a critical gap of logic in Labor’s pretence to have a consistent comprehensive and internally coherent climate change policy.
So now engraved in COP27’s tablet of global wisdom is the following loophole ridden call to parties:
“ ….. to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies……”
The inclusion of ‘low emission’ (read gas) fuels means gas is now promoted alongside renewable energy as a pathway to carbon neutrality. The driving force behind this blatant policy regression was middle eastern oil interests/ governments and a compliant Egyptian host (one wonders what extraordinary wisdom led to this choice of country and region for such a critically important meeting of COP which, not surprisingly, was besieged by regional carbon industry delegates). An Australian pushback to this regression was nowhere to be seen nor its absence reported on. Backing up the promotion of gas is the reference to ‘clean’ (read carbon capture and storage (CCS)) energy. No recognition here that, as Australia has found, CCS remains unproven at scale and therefore its cost-benefit unknown – both for gas extraction and coal fired power generation.
The notion that gas should now become a viable decarbonising instrument is absurd for two very good reasons. The first and most obvious is that the opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees has been lost due to decades of political dithering and obfuscation of the facts by the carbon lobby. The cost of exceeding this level is now massive and any added gas led barrier to rapid decarbonisation attaches an equally massive cost. The second reason is that there is now reliable and widely published scientific evidence of much higher (and previously unaccounted for) methane emissions from upstream extraction of gas. Once accounted for, the emissions from burning gas can be nearly as high as – or even greater than – that of burning coal. So much for the coherence in our government’s decision to sign up to the pledge to reduce methane emissions by one 30% by 2030 at a time when it is giving a pass to 114 further gas and oil projects.
Just what the Australian press contingent at COP 27 (a small fraction of the press army sent to the Queens’s funeral) made of our unholy alliance with the world’s gas producers is hard to assess. The environment Minister, Chris Bowen, was never run to ground and asked to explain how Labor’s support of greatly expanding new gas fields does not run directly contra to global efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. Bowen might also have been asked to explain why COP27’s gas green light should gift gas companies such large unearned profits. One might suspect that our PM (who was apparently unable to walk COP27 and chew ASEAN/G20 as did President Biden and not a few other heads of government) sensed his presence at COP27 may have brought about a media ambush of his government’s flawed love affair with gas. He needn’t have worried – clearly underestimated was our media’s compliance/unconcern.
Our backsliding with the Sheikdoms did not stop here however. Not at all headlined was our failure to support the good company of the US, the UK and Canada in pledging to end government financial support for offshore oil and gas exploration.
Worse, was the silence from Australia and our media’s thin reporting on, India’s initiative to have oil and gas added to the COP 26 missive on phasing down the use of coal. Once again, our Government’s non-role was largely unreported and unnoticed. It is of course bleedingly obvious that, not just the phase down but the phase out of coal, gas and oil is globally essential if we are decarbonise rapidly enough to avoid catastrophic costs. That has been spelt out in crystal clear terms by both the UN Secretary General and the IEA. Guterres has been hammering home the findings of a UN study which finds that, on current investment trajectories, there would be 240 per cent more coal, 57 per cent more oil, and 71 per cent more gas production in 2030, than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. As the author of the UN report, Ploy Achakulwisut, makes unequivocal: “Global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C.”
The above finding is equally reflected in the International Energy Agency’s research which, in 2021, led to the uncomfortable message to its membership of the world’s major energy producers and exporters that no new gas or oil projects should be added to the supply pipeline in which there was already adequate capacity to meet the needs of a rapidly decarbonising world.
But such clear, unequivocal demands of governments based on solid scientific evidence and economic analysis are rarely used by our media to hold the Labor government to account. Rather, in the days immediately following the conclusion of COP27 our media adopted their ritual aversion to over the horizon issues by demoting reporting on the world’s greatest existential threat to an appearance well buried after coverage of gripping videoed car accidents and random acts of violence.
What reportage there was focussed – happily for the Government – on its backing of the loss and damage fund (God forbid it should rightly be called ‘reparations’ in view of the West’s embarrassingly large share of emitted carbon and far higher per capita emissions). Further escaping the Australian media’s attention is the irony that our backing of a gas led recovery in emissions means we are only enlarging what we will have to eventually contribute to the fund. Our government is of course merely kicking the reparations debt can down the road when, no doubt, the bulk will be paid by our children’s taxes. At the very least the Federal Government could rectify the scandalously lower level of royalties and tax from gas extraction – which are substantially lower than the already inadequate returns we get from coal. The returns from such an increase – which would run into billions of dollars annually – could then rightfully be paid to the loss and damage fund rather than pouring them into the pockets of global gas companies already enjoying unearned super profits.