Energy Minister Angus Taylor Paris agreement carbon emissions
Minister for Energy Angus Taylor (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

It’s been a tough December for Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

First his “big stick” divestment powers were neutered after being shot down by businesses, backbenchers and also potentially Australian law. Then his NSW counterpart backed out the morning of Wednesday’s extremely awkward COAG meeting, and the Australian Energy Market Commission announced that not only is the renewable energy target Taylor is set on killing about to lead to a price drop, but his new price cap will actually increase prices for shop-around energy customers.

But even allowing the “Minister for Lower Power Prices” some breathing room, his announcement this week that Australia does “not need a mechanism to reduce emissions” because the energy sector will hit 2030 Paris targets “without inter­vention seven or eight years ahead of time” is nothing short of a straight-up lie.

Disappointingly reported in The Australian under the headline “Paris target achieved eight years early”, Taylor is attempting to spin figures from the energy department’s “Emissions Projections 2018 Report”, which was snuck out today just before Christmas, as some kind of win for his “at a canter” approach to emissions.

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Basically, he’s saying that because emissions from the National Electricity Market will fall to 26% below 2005 levels by 2022, Australia’s energy sector will meet some aspect of our 2030 Paris obligations — which, by the way, do not to refer to any one sector but a 26-28% reduction on 2005’s whole of economy emissions:

“The debate is all wrong. We are going to smash the targe­t without intervention,” Taylor said. “There is no need to have a debat­e about emissions unless you have a higher target.”

Taylor, who repeated this opaque argument post-COAG, is either saying our Paris agreement has an electricity-specific target of 26-28%, or is referring to the actual 2030 target and pretending Australian sectors with increasing emissions such as transport, gas, agriculture, and fugitive emissions simply don’t count.

But while it might be the most carbon polluting sector, electricity only makes up 34% of Australia’s total carbon emissions, and needs to do much, much more than those less flexible sectors for us to hit a total 26-28% reduction by 2030.

It’s why Labor’s carbon price slashed electricity emissions to the point everything dipped overall, and why the next five years of renewables growth, did nothing to stop Australia this year hitting our highest ever levels of carbon emissions (excluding land use figures, which are now seen as highly unreliable).

This was the core argument against Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG — that legislating a 26-28% renewable guarantee for 2030 couldn’t do anything when we’ll hit that by 2021 and still fail the 2030 target. The Coalition has similarly batted away reports from NDEVR Environmental, the Australia InstituteClimateWorks Australia, the United Nations, and even the government’s last annual emissions projections saying that, by doing nothing, Australia will miss our actual Paris target by up to 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the next ten years (or just a 7% reduction on 2005 levels, according to today’s report).

Acknowledging Taylor’s spin, as well as Morrison’s plan to use Kyoto figures to fudge the numbers further, is doubly important when they’re being used to both:

a) claim Australia’s 19% renewable mix is already too big a burden on the grid — a point rebuffed by the market operator and any energy expert worth their salt, and

b) justify the government’s plan to quickly underwrite 24/7 generators including actual coal-fired power plants, with speculation now swirling around an extension of the Vales Point plant in NSW co-owned by coal baron and Liberal donor Trevor St Baker.

At the end of 2018, our government is not only rejecting emissions reduction schemes that even the industry wants, but strongly indicating it will inject public funds into otherwise unviable coal projects. All this while, just yesterday, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s “State of the Climate” report makes it explicit that Australia is seeing more extreme bushfires and heatwaves under 1 degree of global warming.

This isn’t normal, or at least it shouldn’t be. Coalition-led states like South Australia and Tasmania have shown responsibility around the energy transition with schemes including, respectively, battery subsidies and a possible new interconnector to export pumped hydro. NSW has been dead in the water for eight years, but NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin’s comments, even with their rather pathetic retraction, make it clear they know the federal party is killing them (at least electorally).

As one of the highest polluting countries per capita, Australia’s Paris targets are already relatively tame and we’ve ignored calls from both the UN and the Climate Change Authority for the tripled target needed to help avert the two-degree increase forecast by the IPCC report.

That Australia is instead expected to miss our 26-28% economy-wide target and potentially see taxpayer-funded coal demonstrates a shocking, cynical relegation of duty.