Politics

The Government Wants To Use Climate Change Funds To Help Out Coal And Gas

The government will expand our $2 billion climate fund to support projects that don't involve renewable energy.

Open mining pit, climate change

As much as the world has struggled through the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also had some unintended consequences. Carbon emissions are dropping. Pollution is clearing. Rivers are clear enough for us to see the Lime Scooters at the bottom. There’s some heartwarming stuff going on when it comes to climate change.

It’s also given us an opportunity to take stock of how we want the future to look.

In the US, analysts believe the pandemic is only accelerating the decline of the coal industry. The UK has celebrated a record-breaking run without coal power. Austria and Sweden both closed down their last coal-fired power stations last month.

Curious about what our government is up to?

Well, they’re looking at using money from our clean energy funds to bankroll coal and gas-related projects.

That news comes a day after Energy Minister Angus Taylor announced that hitting the climate targets set by the Paris Agreement is not federal policy.

Needless to say, fossil fuel lobbyists are celebrating. Environmentalists are not.

What The Hell Is Going On?

Last year the government quietly put together an expert panel to review their climate policies. It was headed by Grant King, a former gas industry executive, and stacked with other fossil fuel representatives.

At the time it was seen as an acknowledgement that the $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund (an extension of Tony Abbott’s emissions reduction fund, which paid companies to reduce emissions) wasn’t cutting the mustard.

The review was also criticised for being highly secretive — it was not publicly announced and only discovered when Footprint uncovered a copy of the discussion paper.

The panel’s job was to come up with new ways to reduce greenhouse gases for a low cost. They released their report yesterday, and the government has already agreed to 21 of their 26 recommendations (either in full or in-principle).

This includes changing the investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to make them “technology neutral”.

Those agencies were both set up to promote development in renewable energy. Expanding that mandate means the door is open for the government to use the funding to support projects that don’t involve renewable energy.

It would allow money previously earmarked for renewables to be diverted to new gas, hydrogen and coal projects that rely on carbon capture. The government has already agreed to allow these changes.

Carbon capture and store (CCS) technology involves capturing emissions from coal or gas plants before they enter the atmosphere, and storing it underground.

Depending on what side of the debate you’re on, it’s either a way to make coal “cleaner”; or it’s just a very expensive attempt to give coal a better reputation.

Critics say it takes funding away from cheaper and cleaner technology. According to thinktank The Australia Insititute (TIA), the government has spent $1.3 billion on CCS projects since 2003, and has no large-scale operations projects to show for it.

Their climate and energy program director, Richie Merzian, said it would be “preposterous” to support it further.

“Australians have a right to be frustrated by this, not just because of the support for fossil fuels, but by the appalling process,” he said.

Tania Constable, head of the Minerals Council of Australia, said the move would clear a path to cutting emissions while keeping mining competitive.

Meanwhile, What Progress Is Being Made?

Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions fell 17% by early April — unsurprisingly, the sharpest drop in carbon output since records began, which is good, albeit temporary, news for the battle against climate change.

At one point last month Australia’s emissions fell 28.3%.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The lead author, Professor Corinne Le Quéré, said despite the drop it would have a “negligible impact on the Paris agreement goals”.

“This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83% of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour,” she said.

“And it is not desirable — this is not the way to tackle climate change.

“Just behavioural change is not enough. We need structural changes [to the economy and industry]. But if we take this opportunity to put structural changes in place, we have now seen what it is possible to achieve.”

Australia has signed up to the Paris Agreement, which sets a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

However, yesterday our Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said hitting that emissions reduction target was not federal policy.

“Our approach is not to have a target without a plan … we’d love to be able to achieve net zero by 2050, but ultimately that will depend on the pathways of technology to deliver that without damaging the economy,” he told the ABC.

The government has long used the economy as an excuse to delay climate action. Considering we’re in the middle of an economic crisis experts already expect will damage the economy for decades, maybe it’s time to think outside that box.