Australia has outlined it has no plans on halting its emissions-laced industries in order to meet climate goals, but instead will be honing in on reaching “net” zero emissions through carbon offsets and technological development.
This comes during dialogue between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other world leaders at COP26, the 26th United Nations climate summit, to discuss climate change concerns and subsequent remediation strategies. The world’s biggest emitter, China, was not present.
Energy and Emissions Minister Angus Taylor said Australia’s commitments would not involve undermining the nation’s critical industries, such as agriculture and others that currently do not have emissions-free solutions.
“Last week, the Morrison government announced our plan for Australia to achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” Taylor said in a media release on Nov. 2. “That’s net zero, not zero.”
“For some of these sectors, there is no easy way to reduce emissions. And while there are technologies that are in the lab or being trialled, we can’t bank on them yet.”
Another emissions-free industry still in development is steel made using hydrogen, known as green steel, which is necessary to transform the emissions-intense steel production process but has yet to see any real-world application.
Vital to this is the Australian pioneering Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which will allow Australian businesses to earn and trade Australian Carbon Credit Units.
“Through the ERF, we can support technologies that reduce emissions and, for sectors where the technology solutions aren’t yet available, the ERF can help generate offsets that enable businesses to achieve their goals,” Taylor said.
Capturing carbon within vegetation has formed a key part of Australia’s overall emissions reduction efforts, with land management practices—such as the reduction in forest clearing—contributing to over 80 percent of the nation’s declared 20 percent drop in emissions.
Improving the ability for farmers to cash in on carbon sequestered within soil has also taken a spot as one of six key areas in Australia’s newly expanded Technology Investment Roadmap to develop low-emissions technologies.
Furthering this, Australia announced on Nov. 1 that forest-rich Fiji would become the first member to join its recently established Indo-Pacific Carbon Offsets Scheme.
However, the push for carbon offsets has been met with criticism from some environmental groups and businesses who believe emissions should not be generated at all.
Meanwhile, mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has shifted attention away from fossil fuels to champion clean energy solutions through his Fortescue Future Industries organisation.
Speaking at the Reuters IMPACT conference on Oct. 4, Forrest labelled net zero a “smokescreen” that didn’t solve the climate change issue.
“Net zero is a carte blanche to continue using fossil fuels,” he said. “By pretending we can capture all of the carbon dioxide we emit and bury it underground, or by planting the whole Simpson desert in Australia with trees. It’s not going to happen.”
Australia has positioned carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a foundational aspect in its approach to reducing emissions, which involves piping emissions into large naturally-formed underground reservoirs.
“I ask you all to throw out the term ‘net zero’ and commit to ‘absolute zero,'” Forrest replied.
He said absolute zero required 100 percent renewable generation, such as wind, solar, tidal, hydro, and geothermal, along with an overhaul to the mainstay of the shipping industry from diesel to green hydrogen and green ammonia, which has yet to be done.
However, Forrest did not outline how hard-to-abate industries, such as agriculture, steelmaking, and cement production would be converted to zero-emission alternatives.