The Morrison government has flagged increased investment in regional hydrogen hubs and carbon capture and storage projects ahead of a global climate action summit to be hosted by the United States president, Joe Biden, at the end of this week.
The Australian government says the looming May budget will include an additional $539.2m for hydrogen and CCS, building on investments promised during last year’s budget of $70m over five years for hydrogen and $50m for CCS. The spending on CCS will increase to $263.7m.
Australia will spruik the additional expenditure at the virtual Biden summit, which the prime minister, Scott Morrison, will attend. While Morrison continues to signal a favourable disposition towards Australia adopting a net zero target by 2050, the Coalition is not expected to make a concrete commitment at the summit, or unveil any change to its medium-term emissions reduction targets.
The additional funding under the technology roadmap comes as two former Australian prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, have warned the Morrison government has been left “effectively isolated in the western world” by its refusal to increase its climate commitments over the next decade or to adopt a firm timeline for the country to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
In a joint opinion piece for Guardian Australia, the former prime ministers say Biden’s election in the US had been a “massive shot in the arm” for international climate action on a scale beyond what was expected. It had galvanised new commitments from several other countries leaving Australia fairly behind.
Rudd and Turnbull say the Biden administration is expected to this week announce a 2030 pledge twice as deep as Australia’s as the president hosts 40 world leaders at the virtual summit. New announcements are also expected from Japan, Canada and South Korea, with the possibility of China following later this year ahead of a major climate conference in Glasgow in November.
“Our country, however, continues to bury its head in the sand, despite the fact that Australia remains dangerously at risk of the economic and environmental consequences that will come from the climate crisis barrelling towards us,” the ex-PMs say.
Rudd and Turnbull say Australia’s 2030 emissions target – a 26-28% cut compared with 2005 levels – is now “woefully inadequate” and was always intended under the Paris agreement to be increased this year.
“The main thing holding back Australia’s climate ambition is politics: a toxic coalition of the Murdoch press, the right wing of the Liberal and National parties, and vested interests in the fossil fuel sector,” Rudd and Turnbull say.
Morrison used a speech to the Business Council of Australia on Monday night to begin to frame the inevitable transition to the low emissions economy as a boon for regional Australia, in a departure from the “Whyalla wipe out” hyperbole of the Abbott era.
The prime minister noted the transition would be “won” in places like “the Pilbara, the Hunter, Gladstone, Portland, Whyalla, Bell Bay, the Riverina”, some of which are potential sites for the new hydrogen hubs or CCS projects.
But Morrison also invited controversy by declaring that Australia would not “achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities”.
The shadow climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said on Tuesday that Morrison needed to set Australia up for a significant economic transformation, not engage in more “cynical identity politics” pitting metropolitan and regional Australians against one another. Bowen said Morrison should focus on uniting Australians “around a national objective”.
In a statement about the new investments in hydrogen and CCS, Morrison noted the world was changing rapidly. He said Australia would “need to be competitive in a new energy economy to support the jobs of Australians, especially in our heavy industries and regional areas that depend on affordable and reliable energy”.
“We cannot pretend the world is not changing,” Morrison said. “If we do, we run the risk of stranding jobs in this country, especially in regional areas.”
The new funding will support five hydrogen hubs that could be operational by 2022. The government says potential locations for CCS hubs include Moomba in South Australia, Gladstone in Queensland, the Darling Basin in NSW, the North West Shelf and Bonaparte Basin in Western Australia and Darwin.
Extracted in full from: Morrison government flags $540m for hydrogen and carbon capture ahead of Biden summit | Climate change | The Guardian