Forget coal wars, says Alan Finkel – look at emission outcomes

Chief scientist says Australia must use all available technologies

alan finkel
Alan Finkel: ‘The only question of relevance is to look at the atmospheric emissions.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

— Australia’s chief scientist says the question facing the nation’s energy future is not about renewables versus coal but how best to create “a whole-of-economy emissions reduction strategy”.

In a pre-recorded interview with Sky released on Sunday, Dr Alan Finkel responded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, which warned that greenhouse gas pollution needs to reach zero by 2050 if the world is to have any hope of stopping global warming at 1.5°C.

Finkel said for Australia that did not mean debating pro- and anti-coal stances but using all available technologies to create the best outcome.

“I feel we’ve got to focus on outcomes,” he said. “The outcome is atmospheric emissions. We should use whatever underlying technology are suitable for that.

“People paint themselves into an anti-coal corner or a pro-coal corner but the only question of relevance is to look at the atmospheric emissions.”

The IPCC report was largely dismissed by the government last week, including by the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, who referred to it as “some sort of report”.

 

It was the recommendation that coal-fired power needed to be largely phased out by 2050, to slow global warming to a rate which could save the Great Barrier Reef from complete decline, which raised the government’s ire, with the Coalition remaining firmly committed to coal.

Finkel told Sky the report also said “that we need to look at things like coal-fired power with carbon capture and storage associated with it” and the issue was not as black and white as was being presented.

In an op-ed published on the Conversation website on Friday, Finkel said there was “no time for fatalism” and urged “all decision-makers, in government, industry and the community to listen to the science”.

“We have to look squarely at the goal of a zero-emissions planet, then work out how to get there while maximising our economic growth,” he wrote. “It requires an orderly transition, and that transition will have to be managed over several decades.

“That is why my review of the National Energy Market called for a whole-of-economy emissions reduction strategy for 2050, to be in place by the end of 2020.”

Finkel said no option should be ruled out “without rigorous consideration” and he again repeated the importance natural gas would play in the transition.

“The IPCC has made the same point, not just for Australia, but for the world,” he said in the op-ed, adding: “We have in Australia the abundant resources required to produce clean hydrogen for the global market at a competitive price, on either of the two viable pathways – splitting water using solar and wind electricity, or deriving hydrogen from natural gas and coal in combination with carbon capture and sequestration.

“Building an export hydrogen industry will be a major undertaking. But it will also bring jobs and infrastructure development, largely in regional communities, for decades.

“So the scale of the task is all the more reason to press on today – at the same time as we press on with mining lithium for batteries, clearing the path for electric vehicles, planning more carbon-efficient cities, and so much more.”

Finkel recommended that the government establish a clean energy target in the review he handed to the Turnbull government last year but faced immediate opposition from pro-coal backbenchers, including Tony Abbott and Craig Kelly.

 

Those divides within the Liberal party room were a trigger for the leadership spill that ended with Malcolm Turnbull being dumped as prime minister, after the debate about the government’s proposed energy policy conflated with leadership tensions.

It ended with Turnbull quitting parliament and the death of the national energy guarantee, with Scott Morrison ruling out legislating any emissions reductions targets in favour of maintaining them in policy.

The prime minister has continued to insist that Australia will meet its Paris emissions reduction targets “in a canter” despite not having any legislated roadmap to cut atmospheric pollution.


by Amy Remeikis | The Guardian