Scott Morrison’s ‘Australian way’ contains no new emissions reduction policies

The prime minister’s plan for achieving net zero by 2050 has already come under intense scrutiny since it was unveiled on Tuesday. But what does it all mean? Here are the key things you need to know.

1. There are no new policies

Extraordinarily, given it has been in the works for years, Australia has released a long-term emissions reduction plan that contains no new emissions reduction policies. Morrison described the plan as “the Australian way”.

A slideshow rolled out by the emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, was explicit: “The plan is based on our existing policies.”

Taylor says they are guided by five principles: the Coalition’s much repeated line that it backs “technology, not taxes” (which ignores that technology is paid for with tax revenue); no one will be forced to act (“choices not mandates”); technologies’ cost will come down; there will be “affordable and reliable power”; the government will “be accountable for progress”.

Broken down, it means the government is more or less claiming its current path will be enough. It backs this up by arguing it has runs on the board: emissions are already down 20% since 2005.

But if you remove the impact of Covid-19, national emissions have dipped little more than 3% since the Coalition was elected in 2013. Nearly all the cut since 2005 came when Labor was in power, and it was mostly due to changes in state land-clearing laws and forestry.

There are a couple of minor changes in the plan. “Ultra low-cost solar” has been added to a list of priority technologies, but it is not immediately clear what difference this will make – solar is already cheap, and the report boasts that government agencies have invested more than $4.3bn in solar to help it get to this point.

The government says it wants to set up an international carbon crediting scheme with its partners in “the Quad” – the US, India and Japan – which could be significant if it gets going, though there are few details.

The plan also mentions changes already under way to the safeguard mechanism – a policy that was supposed to limit industrial carbon pollution, but hasn’t – that would offer incentives to companies to make cuts, but Taylor has ruled out requiring companies to reduce emissions.

There is no new funding attached to the plan. Morrison indicated that could change in a pre-election budget, but for now – despite the prime minister’s claims Australia was a global leader in clean tech investment – it spends much less than some comparable countries, such as Germany and South Korea.

2. There is no actual plan. Technology will save us

The big theme is that, against the global trend, nothing will be compulsory. Basically, the government will pay for some technologies and some incentives to emitting industries, and the market – business and consumer choice – will do the rest.

This, of course, means the emissions reduction plan is not a plan in a literal sense. There is no roadmap to net zero.