More evidence has arrived that the Morrison government has not changed its spots on its vexed climate and energy policy, which remains fossil fuel–led even as key stakeholders, both nationally and internationally, urge a green stimulus response to COVID-19. The long-promised (if not long-awaited) technology roadmap released by the accident-prone Angus Taylor appears to crab-walk away from building a new coal-fired power station in this country (although the energy and emissions reduction minister stressed on RN Breakfast this morning that this climate denier’s fantasy is not ruled out), but it puts heavy emphasis on the role of gas in the transition to a low-emissions future. Combined with the heavily stacked COVID-19 commission’s leaked report – which does not mention climate change, but recommends the federal government subsidises transcontinental gas pipelines – it seems the technology fix is in.
The draft interim report on a “Modern Industrial Policy” for Australia comes from the manufacturing taskforce advising the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, chaired by Strike Energy director and shareholder Nev Power. The taskforce, headed by Dow Chemical executive and Saudi Aramco director Andrew Liveris, evisages a gas-fired revival of manufacturing. It is all much too cosy. Environment groups reacted with alarm, and independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall has called on the federal government to bring industry groups together to canvass their views on stimulus measures, arguing that the COVID-19 commission’s decision-making processes lacked transparency. Shadow climate and energy minister Mark Butler welcomed the roadmap’s step away from coal, but described the document as the Coalition’s 19th energy policy – and one that was light on details. “Minister Taylor has pulled a hamstring making sure that his anti-renewable colleagues know that expensive new coal is still in the mix, while also tipping his hat to expensive and dangerous nuclear power,” said Butler. “It is not for government to pick winners in energy policy, it is for the market to decide. Labor doesn’t understand why the Morrison government seems so determined to continue to pick losers.”
The roadmap is not much more than a scenario, and given that it comes without the government’s long-term emissions reduction strategy, which will come out later this year, it has very little weight. In his colourful way, Angus Taylor is continuing to do nothing about climate change. There is to be no price on carbon, no major new regulatory strategy, no really sizeable public investment. At its silliest, the roadmap even talks up a big role for carbon capture and storage. This is obscenely expensive – and risky – and though it may have a future role in cutting more emissions from oil and gas or heavy industry, it has failed spectacularly over the last decade when it comes to the holy grail of trapping emissions from coal- or gas-fired power stations. As shadow resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon told Sky News, the roadmap appears to imply that CCS could keep the ever-contentious Liddell power station operating in his Hunter Valley electorate. “It’s just ludicrous to suggest that you can retrofit any carbon capture and storage system to a more-than-50-year-old coal-fired generator,” Fitzgibbon said.
At this stage, you’d have to say, there is no climate pivot coming. It’s not so much that between Scott Morrison’s ham-fisted response to the Black Summer and the coronavirus pandemic he has shown he can learn to be a better PM, although perhaps that is true. The real difference is that when it comes to a pandemic, Morrison has a much freer hand and can be as pragmatic as he likes – be himself, even. When it comes to climate change, however, there is a squillion-dollar fossil-fuel industry that has Morrison on a very short leash and tells him – via political donations, vassals in politics and the media, and a revolving door opening right into his office – where the political and policy boundaries are. A pro-coal bully like ex-Peabody executive Brendan Pearson (the guy who gave [$] Morrison the black lump he took into parliament, and who BHP and Rio considered too extreme for the Minerals Council) is sitting inside the PMO for a reason.
As if to prove the point, today under cover of COVID we saw the approval of a massive expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery mine in NSW, more than doubling its production to 10 million tonnes per annum. Let ’er rip.