Opinion piece: Net Zero Can Mean Net Gain - Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP

Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP

Shadow Minister For Agriculture and resources

Member For Hunter

Net Zero Can Mean Net Gain

Opinion piece

Our communities, rightly, expect each of Australia’s political parties to have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing guarantees on jobs and also affordable and reliable energy security. For me, achieving meaningful net reductions, without doing harm to our traditional industries and the jobs they create, is the most important challenge.

Australia’s path to Government action on greenhouse gas emissions began twenty years ago when John Howard introduced the mandatory Renewable Energy Target. There began a more than two decade-long policy struggle on an issue which has had more prominence than was necessary.

A policy settlement on climate action would free-up more time for all of us to focus on the aspirations of working Australian families and the issues most important to them: tax relief, cost of living, retirement income security, good education, childcare, and health services.

The aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2050 (zero net emissions) offers a conservative and low-risk path to satisfying the commitment Malcolm Turnbull made in Paris on our behalf back in 2015.

First, it provides plenty of time to think and act, including the time needed to embrace existing and future technologies. Second, it stands a chance of securing bipartisanship and therefore, broader community support. Third, it turns the focus to efforts to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and away from an almost singular focus on reducing emissions. In other words, building on existing methods for drawing carbon from the atmosphere and finding innovative new ways of doing so. This is what “net” means: working towards a time when we are putting no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than we are taking out.

Australia’s wealth is largely underpinned by our resources sector. The more than $200 billion dollars our coal, iron ore, oil and gas sectors earn on export markets each year provides the foreign exchange we need to pay for our imported cars, refrigerators, iPhones and computers. Our coal remains in strong demand in the markets of Asia and that will remain the case for many decades to come. While ever that demand exists, we should continue to take the economic opportunities on offer. Further, the big emitters like China and India will need our resources to modernise and clean-up their relatively under-developed and polluting economies.

Our electricity system is changing. Renewable generation is now responsible for around twenty percent of generation and ever-evolving and improving battery storage technologies will allow further growth while not putting the grid out of balance or adversely impacting on energy reliability. The role of gas is growing, as is pumped hydro. If we are smart, when our coal-fired power generators reach the end of their physical and commercial lives, new and cleaner technologies will be ready to take up the slack. That time is still a long way off. Some of our generators will be around for another forty years. Others, like the fifty-year-old and less-efficient Liddell power station, will run out of puff soon.

In the Hunter, we are working with AGL to make sure that by the time Liddell is decommissioned, our region will have more modern and cleaner forms of electricity in place to replace the lost generation capacity.

Five years ago, a Coalition Government signed us up to an international agreement to reduce emissions sufficiently – in concert with the global community – to keep further warming below two degrees Celsius. But it has failed to follow-up its commitment with enough action. While it dithers and delays, community frustration increases, and potential investors in our energy system grow more nervous and reluctant. It’s time to put the fights and petty politics behind us. We can take serious action and work with the market in doing so without forsaking jobs in our traditional industries.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has committed NSW to zero net emissions. So too have most of her State counterparts. So too has the Business Council of Australia. So too has Santos and BP and other mining and energy companies. The odd man out is Scott Morison. The best and easiest path to success is to go there together.

It’s over to you, Prime Minister.


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