Interview with David Bevan, ABC Radio Adelaide
21 May 2020
Subject: Technology Investment Roadmap, emissions targets, carbon credits, agriculture, livestock, and nuclear reactors.
DAVID BEVAN: Angus Taylor, Federal Energy Minister, good morning to you.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning David. Thanks for having me.
DAVID BEVAN: What do you hope will come out of this Technology Investment Roadmap discussion paper that's actually going to affect our listeners?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, lower emissions, a stronger economy, lower cost of living, stronger businesses in Australia. The goals are very, very clear and they've always been the goals of our energy policy. The important point about this roadmap is it says we need to have many horses in the race, and we need to make sure that we back any horse that’s got a chance of winning. It needs to be right across the economy, not just electricity, which gets an enormous focus, rightly - it's a third of emissions - but we also have manufacturing, agriculture, transport, other industry, the property sector, all of those sectors have very, very big impacts on emissions. There's technologies emerging now in Australia and around the world that allow us to reduce emissions while strengthening those sectors, encouraging investment and jobs. The key to this roadmap is making sure we're facilitating, we're investing in the R&D, we're prioritising those technologies with the best chance of winning, and at the same time, we're strengthening those critical sectors for places like South Australia and right across Australia.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. So just remind our listeners, what are the current emissions targets for 2050?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We've set our targets for 2020, 2030 and then we have a joint target with other countries around the world to reduce emissions to net zero in the second half of the century - that's the Paris Agreement. So, right now, we will beat our 2020 targets by, we expect, just under a year's worth of emissions. We're on track. We have a clear plan with known technologies to deliver on our 2030 targets, and we want to do better than that by deploying some of these new emerging technologies like hydrogen, like soil carbon opportunities we're seeing for agriculture. And then of course, the key over the long term is to have a portfolio of technologies, not just for Australia, but the world that allow us to reduce emissions without hurting our economies, without imposing on our cost of living.
DAVID BEVAN: Minister, does the 2020 target and the 2030 target involve using credits?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it involves reducing emissions. I mean, basically-
DAVID BEVAN: But does it, obviously it involves reducing emissions, but does it involve using credits from previous attempts where we did better than previously and we kept those as credits, and we can use them as we do the bookwork and show that we're meeting our 2030 targets?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We believe over achievement should be recognised, absolutely.
DAVID BEVAN: So you want to stick to using the credits?
ANGUS TAYLOR: David, let's just be clear about this. That's been bipartisan until recently. In fact, Labor made it a condition of entering into the Kyoto agreement - the Kyoto 2 agreement that over achievement was recognised.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Alright.
ANGUS TAYLOR: So we think it should be recognised because Australians have done extremely well, and we believe it should be recognised.
DAVID BEVAN: So you're not letting go of the credits. And your net zero in the second half of the century, have you actually got a date for that? Is it 2050 or is it sometime-
ANGUS TAYLOR: This is a global agreement.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: And let's be very clear about this. We want to achieve a reduction in emissions as quickly as possible.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: But what we're not going to do is hurt the economy.
DAVID BEVAN: No.
ANGUS TAYLOR: This is technology, not taxes. The Labor approach-
DAVID BEVAN: It's just second half of the century is a bit vague. I mean, that's 50 years.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, I tell you, I can't predict what technologies are going to do in 2041, nor can you. What I can do is do everything in my power and in the Government's power to make sure that we've got technologies coming along for Australia and for the world, whether they're hydrogen or soil carbon, carbon capture and storage, the solar and wind technologies we know well, are coming through as quickly as possible, giving us every chance of achieving emissions reductions without hurting the economy.
DAVID BEVAN: Right. But if you've got a target of net zero in the second half of the century, you could achieve that-
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's the global target.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah. But that's your target. We're talking about your target. So if your target is net zero by the second half of the century, you could achieve that target on the last day of 2099.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we can spend all day talking about targets, David, but what matters is what we deliver.
DAVID BEVAN: I just want to know because it says here: ‘Framework to accelerate low emissions technologies, Technology Investment Roadmap’, so we want to know where we're going, and I want to know what the destination is and you're telling me that it's sometime in the second half of the century.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm telling you that the destination is to reduce emissions as fast as we possibly can, and the key to that will be technology. Now, what a lot of people want us to do is sign a blank cheque, tax these sectors whatever you've got to tax them to get emissions reduction. That's been the view of many, including the Labor Party, for many years. Three elections in a row we've seen Labor go to the people with policies like that, and three times they've been rejected. That is not our approach. Our approach is to say Australians are smarter than that. We can develop technologies, deploy technologies, in ways that don't just reduce emissions but strengthen our economy, and what this roadmap is laying out is what those technologies are -
DAVID BEVAN: Okay.
ANGUS TAYLOR: How we encourage them, how we facilitate them and how we make sure that people choose them because they benefit their businesses and their households, not because the Government is telling them to do it.
DAVID BEVAN: Angus Taylor, how much does the plan, the strategy, rely on unproven technologies to achieve targets?
ANGUS TAYLOR: I think, for the whole world, there's technologies developing now that we need in the coming decades that we've got to prove up. I mean, that's the reality. We're all in that position. You know when I went to Madrid and when I speak with my colleagues from around the world, the real edge of chair discussions that every energy minister around the world wants to have, energy and climate ministers around the world want to have is what technologies are you investing in, where do you see the best prospects, where do you think we have a winner.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah, but the question is how much does the plan rely on unproven technologies to achieve these targets?
ANGUS TAYLOR: The 2020 target and the 2030 targets are both based on existing technology, that's very clear, but as we go out further like every country in the world, we've got to make sure we've got technologies that we're investing in, that are coming to feasibility, commercial feasibility, like hydrogen, which is a big focus for South Australia and rightly so.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay, so the target for the second half of the century is sometime between 2050 and 2099 of net zero emissions, ow much does that target - that's a pretty big target, by the way, 49 years - how much does that target rely on unproven technologies?
ANGUS TAYLOR: It depends how the proven technologies perform between now and 2050. What I'm not going to tell you is what our emissions are going to be in July 2041, because that would be, that's like being some kind of central planner. But what I can tell you is that if we as a country do what we've always done, which is invest in a portfolio of technologies across a range of sectors, we give ourselves every chance of not just meeting and beating our goals, but meeting and beating global goals.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's be clear about this. India and China are not going to impose big costs on their economies, slow their economic growth, in order to reduce emissions if that means their people are going to be worse off. You have to understand that technology is the key.
DAVID BEVAN: How much store do you put on electric cars?
ANGUS TAYLOR: That will be a choice for consumers and this is the whole point - we're not telling people what technologies to use. We're bringing technologies down the learning curve, as it's called, down the cost curve, to a point where consumers will choose them because they're the best choice for them. The contrast is telling people what sort of car to drive, we're simply not going to do it.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Well how much reliance do you put on agriculture reducing its emissions?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I think there's enormous potential in agriculture, and in particular where there's potential is for agriculture to play a role in storing carbon in the soil.
DAVID BEVAN: What does enormous mean? I mean, are they going to have to reduce their emissions by, how much? Because it's a roadmap. So we're looking for detail here. So how much are you relying on agriculture to reduce emissions?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, if you want to get into the detail, look typically in the Tableland areas, livestock areas, soil carbon levels might be 2, 3, 4 per cent in the soil - organic carbon in the first 10 centimetres. Look, it has the potential to be significantly higher, and we've seen when there's significant investment in the right sort of techniques and technologies, they can increase that dramatically. So when we know there's enormous potential in soil carbon. We've got to keep doing the work. The real work that's happening there is on measuring it at a low cost on a regular basis, which helps farmers understand how they're driving their productivity and at the same time improving soil carbon. What's great about this area when you look at soil carbon and agriculture and farming, is that you can do two things at the same time: help farmers to be more productive, more efficient, more effective, more competitive, and reduce emissions or absorb emissions, absorb carbon dioxide at the same time.
DAVID BEVAN: Will we have to reduce the size of our livestock holdings in this country?
ANGUS TAYLOR: No, we absolutely shouldn’t.
DAVID BEVAN: Not at all, okay.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, the idea that the way to address emissions is to slash important sectors, slash the farming sector - I mean, this is the kind of crazy stuff that Australians just reject.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay.
ANGUS TAYLOR: This is the difference between a technology driven approach and a tax driven approach.
DAVID BEVAN: Alright.
ANGUS TAYLOR: We're simply not going to go down that path, taxing sectors-
DAVID BEVAN: What about nuclear reactors?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, the interesting thing that we're seeing in nuclear is the development of what's known as small modular reactors. It's early days. We've seen a couple of them built in developing countries. They're starting to, we're seeing projects now in the developed world. There's lots of promise, but as always with technology, the proof is in the pudding. We'll be watching very, very closely. We've got no plan to change our current moratorium, but we have pointed out in the paper that it's important we watch this technology. It has great potential, great promise, but as yet, there's still some way to go.