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Scott Morrison’s climate PFFT



After an excruciating few weeks of negotiations with the Nationals — and far too many hours subjected to Barnaby Joyce’s ramblings — the Morrison government has finally announced their predictably underwhelming plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Plan with a capital P, that is. Yesterday’s PowerPoint presentation from Energy Minister Angus Taylor consistently spelled the word with a capital letter, giving it proper noun status to confer an aura of substance that wasn’t there.

But rather than a climate Plan, it’s better described as a climate PFFT. That stands for Projections For Future Technologies because instead of using government policy to drive down emissions, the Coalition’s approach is to wait for a few hand-picked technologies to get cheaper and magically save the day.

PFFT also has the added benefit of accurately describing the response of energy experts who expected something more than this series of charts with very little detail, and no actual modeling because the Minister has claimed that’s not in the public interest.

And PFFT is what our international allies are likely to say when Scott Morrison rocks up to the Glasgow talks with no plan to increase Australia’s very low 2030 climate target, which has again been ranked dead last among developed nations.

One of the Fs in that acronym could also stand for Fantasy Technology. The plan (available here) assumes 15 per cent of pollution cuts will come from ‘global technology trends’, which aren’t specified. Another 15 per cent would come from ‘further technology breakthroughs’, which the report at least gives 72 words to explaining later on, but the only specific technologies mentioned are ‘bioenergy’ and ‘direct air’ forms of carbon capture and storage.


'The federal Coalition doesn’t approach the climate crisis like a government trying to solve a problem. They approach it like a political party in the frantic final weeks of an election campaign, beginning with slogans and then working backwards to produce charts and figures that can justify their sales pitch.'



(Above: Chart from Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan, page 15)

In other words, growing plants, burning them for energy and then storing the pollution underground, or sucking carbon dioxide from the air and storing that somewhere too.

To give this more credit than it deserves, relying on such unproven technology in climate scenarios is hardly unusual. Many models for keeping warming under 1.5 degrees assume large-scale use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (called BECCS in the literature). It’s seen as necessary because some sectors, such as agriculture and transport, will struggle to reduce emissions to zero by 2050. We’ll need some ‘negative emissions’ technologies to get there.

But in these models BECCS is Fantasy Tech in the service of a lofty and worthy goal — maintaining a habitable climate — whereas the federal government’s use of Fantasy Tech is simply to avoid imposing a price on pollution, or anything else that penalises the coal, oil and gas industries. (Let’s call that the Tony Abbot Principle, or TAP.)

Along with up to 30 per cent emissions cuts coming from technology that doesn’t exist, the Coalition’s net zero ‘Plan’ projects 10-20 per cent reductions from international or domestic offsets. Translation: paying for others to cut pollution because we won’t.

Another take is that two Fs in our PFFT acronym could stand for Fossil Fuels. Believe it or not, Energy Minister Angus Taylor actually used the announcement yesterday to spruik the LNG sector, even though booming gas exports are pushing up Australia’s emissions due to methane leakage (known as ‘fugitive emissions’).

Methane is the main component of natural gas and has a much greater warming effect than carbon dioxide over the short term. Scientists are worried that methane emissions have been accelerating, and a big focus of the upcoming climate talks in Glasgow will be a global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Australia’s continued promotion of the gas industry is undermining this international effort, which is likely to be a major focus of the talks.

You might think I’m being facetious, analysing the federal Coalition’s big climate Plan purely through the lens of a four-letter acronym, PFFT. But really, I’m just responding to the announcement at the same level it was created. If the government releases highly speculative projections with no modeling, why should we treat it as serious policy?

The reality is the federal Coalition doesn’t approach the climate crisis like a government trying to solve a problem. They approach it like a political party in the frantic final weeks of an election campaign, beginning with slogans and then working backwards to produce charts and figures that can justify their sales pitch.

After so many failed attempts at landing a climate policy, Liberal and National MPs just want to get out of this political hotspot and move on to discussing other topics.

So I’m assessing it the same way — at the level of marketing, of pure political poetry. Because that’s what it is: nice sounding words to avoid taking action in the next decade. It’s not a climate policy, it’s just PFFT... So let's call it what it is.



Greg Foyster headshotGreg Foyster is a writer, illustrator and author of the memoir Changing Gears. His non-fiction and cartoons have appeared in The Age, The Saturday Paper, ABC, Meanjin, Eureka Street and others. His fiction has appeared in The Big Issue, Aurealis and Overland. He currently works in  communications for an environment charity.

Main image: Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Brendan Thorne / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Greg Foyster, climate change, climate policy, UN, COP26, net zero, 2030



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Existing comments

I like this article, there's an elegant amount of smarm and scepticemia (sic) which the Plan deserves due to its vague nature and timing despite the many years of gestation... even its mother couldn't love it. So we have 15% + 15% = 30% of unproved or hitherto unknown processes (foster-fathers?) and in the 60% "known" mix some notion the world can make steel but avoid carbon and methane. Metallurgical coking coal rarely comes without digging up lower grade thermals as well and even if we don't burn the steaming coal for energy we get the methane release. Direct reduced iron (DRI) steel can be achieved by using hydrogen but the power consumption is enormous and market leaders in the technology promote nuclear electrical power to supply the process. So the PFFT has been released but we have little understanding of how much power Australia will generate to make our hydrogen and what generation process will supply the grid baseload. Methinks nuclear. Don't get me wrong, hydrogen will be a leading option to replace battery storage eventually but I anticipate the Australian public are about to be re-directed to a nuclear path to "achieve net zero 2050" to explain policy changes to accompany PFFT.

ray | 27 October 2021  

I am seriously hoping for a miracle, because that is our only hope. The whole world, not just the Australian Government, is fiddling while the planet burns. The horse has bolted.

Frank S | 28 October 2021  

a wonderful explanation of the incredulous nonsense this Government is spruking . I have written numerous responses concerning this issue over the last couple of decades, but my responses have been the turgid style of one used to writing scientific jargon as a Climatologist . I admire Will Steffen and Tim Flannery because they can explain the imminent climatic disaster facing Australia and the World in layman's language.
I was thinking tonight that Morrison will be alive to see the results of the ecocide on his children and grandchildren. Hopefully now at 72 years of age, I will be gone before the s**t hits the fan, but my kids and grandkids will have to live in a very hostile world .

Gavin O'Brien | 28 October 2021  

One good way of looking at it, Greg. Another is to say it is a plan with net zero substance, as well as net zero details. For me, it is not a plan at all, and the government has never had a plan. A plan consists of more than just stating targets (leaving aside the in appropriateness of those targets) It requires serious commitment to stated objectives (or target outcomes), a timeline, an identification of method to achieve it all, allocation of resources and the establishment of intermediate objectives and checks as to whether the plan is on track. Sure this particular plan needs to address some massively important sub-objectives - in particular local and national social impacts - but there is the role for the federal government - a summit task force to bring together in co-ordinated fashion all the actions already underway by state governments and business sectors. They are so disconnected from the necessary inputs they do not realise what a (tragic) farce their pronouncements are to those who actually do know what is required, and they think their smoke and mirrors approach can convince anyone.

Dennis Green | 29 October 2021  

Hit and hope! This isn't a plan, it's all about deflecting attention from what is actually wishful thinking.

Erik Hoekstra | 29 October 2021  
Show Responses

Precisely Erik, and the bishops are silent. Mustn't upset the government when the freedom to religious discrimination bill is about to be tabled.

Ginger Meggs | 08 November 2021  

I am extremely cautious about this latest international bunfest, without the world's major polluters such as China. The major polluters hold the key to reducing global warming. Our Prime Minister has good speech writers. There are so many vested interests in this area, from the proponents of 'clean' (fracked?) gas to well heeled investors in Zalli Stegall's electorate. Of course, according to St Kristina Kennealy, nuclear energy is out. I can see why her qualifications are in Feminist Theology: not something which qualifies her, but then, she's KK. We need to consider nuclear or will miss the boat.

Edward Fido | 02 November 2021  
Show Responses

Unfortunately nuclear would take 20 years to commission, by then it is too late. Already China and India are not committing to zero carbon before 2060, when it should be 2035 to keep to 1.5 degrees. Pray hard.

Frank S | 07 November 2021