Climate experts cautiously optimistic about federal government's tech roadmap

Climate scientists say putting the focus back on gas would be a "waste of a monumental amount of money".

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor has released the government's technology road map towards reducing emissions.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor has released the government's technology road map towards reducing emissions. Source: AAP

Climate and renewable energy experts are cautiously optimistic that the federal government’s technology roadmap could lead to a more practical and less political response to climate change.

But they say crucial detail is lacking about how the framework will be implemented and are calling for stronger climate policy to underpin the strategy.

The paper, released on Thursday, identifies more than 140 technologies to invest in during the short, medium and long term between now and 2050, but does not set a target on reducing emissions by then. 

Gas and pumped hydrogen are named as key ways to shore up the reliability of solar and wind and help shift Australia to a clean economy.

“The vision here is the right one, what is missing yet is the detail on how we might actually get there,” ANU Centre for Climate Economics and Policy director Frank Jotzo told SBS News.

“The trouble in Australia for at least the last decade has been that climate change and energy policy has been too political.”

ANU Professor Frank Jotzo.
Source: SBS News

The technologies listed will be assessed further through a consultation period to determine which ones are what  Energy Minister Angus Taylor has called “horses in this race” to be targeted for investment.

Mr Taylor said it's a non-ideological response and focuses on technology rather than taxes.

“We shouldn’t be ideological about it, we should be pragmatic and focus on technologies that can reduce emissions and strengthen the economy at the same time,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor wants a lot of horses in the energy race.
Source: AAP

The government has promised to add to the more than $10 billion already spent on clean energy, naming electric vehicles and batteries as among key technologies to support.

Labor’s climate change spokesperson Mark Butler has accused the government of failing to provide an investment framework to give investors confidence to deliver such technologies.

“The cheapest and the cleanest way to renew our ageing, increasingly unreliable electricity system is to centre on renewable energy,” he said.

"What is needed though, is an investment framework that will give investors confidence to make that technology a reality and deliver it on the ground." 

Labor climate change spokesperson Mark Butler.
Source: AAP

The paper also identified the potential for small modular nuclear reactors, while acknowledging challenges with cost, the environment and social acceptability.

Gas-fired power plants, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon sequestration are other technologies put forward to lower emissions.

The roadmap's release comes as a leaked interim report from the Manufacturing Taskforce of the National COVID Coordination Commission points to a “gas-led manufacturing recovery”.

It recommends the government underwrite a network of new pipelines linking the east and west coasts – plus an end to all fracking moratoriums in New South Wales and Victoria.

ANU renewable energy analyst Andrew Blakers said the government should instead be focusing its efforts on more proven renewable technologies.

“Solar and wind have run the race. A focus back on gas is simply going to be a waste of a monumental amount of money that will become a stranded asset in the years ahead,” he said.

“The notion that gas is going to support wind and solar is laughable. We need to get cracking on pushing ahead."

Climate Council chief Amanda McKenzie also warned new gas projects would create huge investment losses, stranded assets and environmental harm.

"Public investment in gas would be a disastrous waste, locking in more dangerous climate change and higher energy prices," she said.

But Grattan Institute Energy Program director Tony Wood is less convinced the renewable technology race has already been decided.

He said the process of evaluating technological options could play an important role in determining the road ahead to a cleaner energy system.

“Getting on with this technology work is worth doing and it will be sending us in the right direction,” he said.

“What's less clear is what happens after that and how we deploy these technologies in the lowest-cost way to reduce emissions. The role of government in that process is still a major challenge in our political sphere.”

The Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian said uncertainty also remained over the long-term destination of the technology roadmap.

“We can't afford to waste more time with more of these reviews that have no real aim at addressing climate change,” he said.

"It is time for a serious climate and energy policy - a serious target by 2050 for net-zero and then serious targets in the interim."

The Australia Institute's Richie Merzian.
Source: SBS News

Mr Taylor on Thursday reiterated the government's opposition to adopting a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

“We’re not going to commit to a target without a plan, we’re not going to commit to a blank cheque for a big carbon tax,” he said.

“What we are going to do is say we’ll drive these lower-emission technologies as quickly as possible.”

The technology roadmap is asking for industry and community feedback by 21 June to prepare a major policy statement before the end of September.

The statement would set Australia's agenda for the next United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow.

The government has currently committed to reducing greenhouse emissions by 26 per cent by 2030.

Published 21 May 2020 at 6:51pm
By Tom Stayner