The Coalition has announced more than $1 billion in climate funding that could go towards fossil fuel development since setting a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 last year , according to an analysis.
The bulk of the funding pledged during the election campaign was to develop “clean” hydrogen – a term often used to refer to hydrogen made with gas, a fossil fuel – and carbon capture and storage (CCS), which has had little success so far, but oil and gas executives say they will have to play a huge role if the world is to reduce emissions.
The progressive Australia Institute think tank has made commitments to develop clean hydrogen and CCS, including $300 million for the Northern Territory, $158 million for Queensland and at least $140 million for Western Australia. Up to $40 million has been pledged to help gas giant Woodside build a CCS hub in the Pilbara.
The institute’s climate and energy program director, Richie Merzian, said it illustrated how the government was supporting fossil fuel industries while promising to act on the climate crisis.
Merzian said hydrogen made with gas could only have low emissions if CCS proved economically viable, and that had yet to happen on a large scale despite billions of dollars in Australian government commitments. .
He said clean hydrogen was “a marketing term, not a climate solution”, and there was strong support from other countries for zero-emission green hydrogen made with renewable energy.
“While hydrogen is meant to be a climate solution and act as an alternative to fossil fuels, there is no way it can be based on fossil fuels,” he said.
Oil and gas executives expressed optimism at a conference in Brisbane this week about CCS and clean hydrogen allowing the industry to grow while trying to cut emissions.
The conference heard that Australia is home to the world’s largest CCS project – Chevron’s Gorgon development in the Pilbara, which the company says has captured and injected underground around 6 million tonnes of emissions since its start-up late almost three years ago. To put this into context, Australia alone emits around 500 million tonnes a year.
The Coalition did not respond to questions, including on why it believed investing in clean hydrogen made with gas and CCS projects would lead to significant emissions reductions.
It has previously said it is “strongly committed to gas recovery”, including opening up the potentially vast Beetaloo gas basin in the Northern Territories, and argued that support for hydrogen and CCS can reduce emissions while creating jobs. He dismissed a warning from the International Energy Agency that no new oil and gas fields should be opened up if the world is to retain the chance to limit global warming to 1.5C.
The Australia Institute has estimated that the government has committed up to $1.7 billion in climate funding that could go to fossil fuel projects since Scott Morrison set a net zero target in October. The pledges included:
The institute also included the November announcement of a $500 million “low-emissions technology commercialization fund” to support government priority areas including hydrogen, CCS, carbon dioxide storage, and more. energy and ‘very low cost solar’. The future of the proposed fund is uncertain: the government promised legislation in the last parliament to create the fund under the national green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), but no draft legislation has been presented.
Labor backed all energy commitments in the budget and matched the government’s commitments to green hydrogen during the campaign, including up to $44.9 million for a development in Queensland, but expressed their skepticism about the strength of government support for CCS. With the crossbench, the Labor Party opposed government attempts to recast two clean energy agencies, CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, so they could fund CCS and gas projects.
A Labor spokesman said he would support “any emissions reduction technology that stacks up scientifically and commercially”.
“What Labor does not support is the diversion of scarce funding from renewables to non-renewables, which the government has always tried to do,” they said.
Coal and gas proposals would blow emissions target
A separate analysis looked at what it would mean for Australia’s national emissions if all of the new coal and gas projects on a list of proposed developments by a government department come to fruition.
Climate Analytics managing director and chief scientist Bill Hare found they would add 8.3% to Australia’s annual emissions by 2030.
This would mean the country would likely easily miss the Coalition’s 2030 target of a 26% to 28% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels unless new policies are introduced. The work aims for a reduction of 43% over the period.
If all emissions from coal and gas developments were counted, including those from burning fossil fuels after they were sold overseas, Hare said this would add the equivalent of 170% of the current emissions of the Australia to the world total.
He said while the more than 100 coal and gas proposals were not all likely to go ahead, their potential emissions would be a significant issue for the next government.
“The outlook for Australia if these projects aren’t canceled is really quite dire,” Hare said. “It would add to our pariah status internationally.”
The Coalition and Labor say new coal and gas developments should be allowed as long as companies are willing to invest and if they meet local environmental standards.
The Greens want a moratorium on all new coal and gas development and the phasing out of thermal coal by 2030.