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Interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National Breakfast

21 May 2020

Interviewer: 
Fran Kelly

Subject: Technology Investment Roadmap, emissions reduction, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, gas, coal, emissions targets.

E&OE

FRAN KELLY: The Federal Government has released its plan to reach Australia's 2030 emissions target and beyond. This technology roadmap canvasses 140 new and emerging technologies including electric vehicles, batteries and small scale nuclear. But it also gives gas a major role to play in our transition to a low emissions future, and confirms the Government's intention to try and expand the use of carbon capture and storage. Labor says the Government's ignoring scientific advice on that front and has labelled its 'technology, not taxes' slogan a ‘joke’. A little later we'll be joined by the Shadow Climate Minister, Mark Butler, but right now Angus Taylor is the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister. He joins us again. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: This is the framework for emissions reduction you're going to take to the world at the Glasgow climate conference next year. It looks at things like carbon capture and storage - hydrogen, nuclear and, to use your words: “Renewables firmed by gas”. But why aren't we just focusing primarily on solar, wind, and pumped hydro, the no-emissions technologies?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's important we focus on technology, not taxes – that is the first point I'd make - and it's a very clear strategy which is to avoid imposing costs, raising the cost of living, destroying jobs and incomes at a critical time like this when we need a strong economy. But ultimately it is also about balance, Fran, and I think the Australian people understand only too well that the way through this is a balanced approach, deploying Australian ingenuity and enterprise in new technologies - we've been very good at it in the past, we have the potential to be very good at it in the future - and not only in developing technologies we can use for our own purposes to reduce our own emissions, but developing technologies which will reduce emissions and strengthen economies in the developing world, which is a really crucial part of the challenge we've got to solve here. Technology is the key to doing this.

FRAN KELLY: Well hang on, hang on, Australia's never taken that approach in what our technologies and our resources are doing to the rest the world in terms of emissions in regards to coal before. Why are we doing that now? Is this a shift?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I mean, the truth is that when we sell our solar technology, or we sell gas for that matter up into Asia, we're reducing emissions, we're replacing the higher emitting alternatives.

FRAN KELLY: What about coal? We're a huge coal exporter.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well actually it turns out that our coal is lower emissions than many of the countries would be using from their domestic coal supplies, but the crucial point here is that it's technology that allows us to reduce emissions without imposing higher cost of living, without imposing taxes, without imposing imposts on jobs and incomes. And as we come out of COVID-19 we need a strong economy - the world, every country in the world needs a strong economy - and the key then to reducing emissions in that context is technologies that give us the balance, that allow us over time to reduce our emissions. We can't do it overnight, extreme solutions here will not work, but we can if we take a balanced approach and that's exactly what this roadmap is doing.

FRAN KELLY: So what sort of timeframe are you looking at? Because the Federal Government has said consistently it won't commit to a target without a plan. So we've got the plan. Can you and will you commit then to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as most of the states have, major business groups are calling for and as Labor has done? Can you do that now?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry Fran, this is the beginning of a process to establish a short, medium-term and longer-term technology priorities. We'll work through that over the course of this year as it's absolutely crucial that we do. I mean, it's very hard to predict the pathway of every technology, that's why you take a balanced portfolio approach to it and that's exactly the approach we will be taking. But what we're not going to do, Fran, is impose a target which ultimately, if the technologies don't get there as fast as you would like, means you've got to impose taxes - we're simply not going to do it. It's the wrong thing to do, particularly at this time.

FRAN KELLY: Yeah but this is a road map, I think I’ve probably asked you this before, but if this is the roadmap you're getting to here, is the destination zero carbon emissions?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean we've committed alongside every other party to the Paris Agreement to reach net zero in the second half of the century. Our point is the way to do that is to collectively work on technologies which we can deploy, which people will choose because they're good choices - choices that improve their businesses, reduce their cost of living - they'll choose to use these technologies because it's the economically sensible thing to do. That's how we're going to get there. And remember, this is a global job here. There's no point Australia doing this alone with 1.3 per cent of emissions, we've got to work collectively on technologies that allow China and India and other big emitting, developing countries to reduce their emissions while strengthening their economies. That's why technology is so crucial to the solution.

FRAN KELLY: Well let's look what Australia's going to do. When you do release this roadmap, I think you're expecting that in September, is that when we can expect these 140 technologies to be whittled down to the priority technologies? Is that what we're doing here?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, we're working towards priorities, both short, medium, and long term. And we've made very clear that we want horses in this race. Any horse that can win the race, we want it in there. We'll be putting out technology statements on specific technologies later in the year. We've already made very clear that hydrogen, for instance, is a priority technology. We're investing $500 million in the National Hydrogen Strategy.

FRAN KELLY: Sure.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We set a target of ‘H2 under 2’ - getting hydrogen cost of production down to below $2 a kilogram which makes it competitive with gas. You know, these are very clear targets. We know if we achieve those economic outcomes, then businesses, households will choose these technologies because it reduces their cost of living, and it allows them to invest, employ and strengthens the economy.

FRAN KELLY: Well, households won't be choosing whether it's hydrogen or gas. I mean, the Government will be ultimately choosing this for us by the policy settings you've put in place. When we get that roadmap in September, will it offer a timeline to net zero emissions? Will it tell us where we want emissions to be by 2030? By 2050? And ultimately, when net zero emissions? Will it tell us that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: What it will say, Fran, no doubt, is that if we can accelerate technologies, and accelerate technologies to a point where people choose them - and households do make choices on technology, they will choose the type of car - those choices shouldn't be imposed, they're choices for them to make.

FRAN KELLY: Some choices we can make, but not all of them.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there's many choices here that, I mean, all the choices need to be made by either businesses or households, and those choices need to be made on an economically sensible basis. And of course, if the technologies accelerate, if we're able to make the investments in technologies, improve them at a pace which allows us to ensure that we can strengthen the economy and at the same time bring down emissions, we'll bring down emissions faster than we otherwise would have. That's the goal here. It's very, very clear. The timeline will depend on the capacity of Australia and other countries in the world to get these technologies to parity, and the goal has to be, not to raise the cost of existing fuel sources, but to reduce the cost of emerging lower emitting, alternative fuel sources.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So, you're wanting to come up with - there will be many horses in this race, you want to see which horses are still at the end. The Government seems to be backing a horse called gas. You've said, you trumpeted, a gas lead recovery. But, there's no getting around the fact gas is a fossil fuel. Lower emissions than coal, but still quite high emissions from the burning and extraction phases, and it's not zero emissions. So we can't factor gas in over the medium to long-term, can we? Or we'll never get to zero emissions.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let's be clear here - gas is one of many technologies that can play an important role here and what makes gas–

FRAN KELLY: But you have championed it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's very important in the short term, it's very important now and there's a couple of reasons for that. Number one, it is lower emitting than alternatives. But crucially, it's flexible so it balances, it is complementary with renewables. We've got an enormous, a record level, world leading level of investment happening in solar and wind. That has to be balanced with dispatchable, baseload generation, or it has to be able to form baseload, and we need a dispatchable, flexible fuel source. Now, pumped hydro can play that role. We're investing a significant amount in Snowy 2.0 as an illustration of that, and of course, we're working with the Tasmanians on Battery of the Nation. But gas plays that role too. Gas has played a crucially important role-

FRAN KELLY: Yes. But it is a short term role. It's not a medium, long term role, if we're heading to zero emissions. So, the Government wouldn't be supporting or backing long-term investment in gas infrastructure, would you? If it's only going to be a short-term breach?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think what you're suggesting Fran is that we need to get to the long term outcome tomorrow. Well, that's just not the way this works.

FRAN KELLY: No, no, no. Obviously not. But we're trying to get to zero emissions, you've conceded that, or acknowledged that, rather. So gas is not a long term option? Carbon- fossil fuels are not long-term options for us, are they.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it can play a significant role for a significant period of time and it needs to. It's very important. And you know, we've seen–

FRAN KELLY: Like what sort of time frame would you be thinking?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Just to give you an illustration of this, Fran. You know, in the UK and the US it is playing an absolutely crucial role in reducing emissions. And it's doing it because it's so complementary to solar and wind as I've explained. And, you know, right around the world it is playing a very, very important role. We are the biggest LNG exporter in the world - it would be crazy for us not to use it as an important part of the journey we're on, and a balanced source of energy. Not just for electricity, by the way. It plays a crucial role in producing fertiliser, for instance, for farmers.

FRAN KELLY: Okay.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And this is where carbon capture and storage becomes so essential. Alan Finkel says it all the time - carbon capture and storage is a crucial technology recognised by the IPCC, by the International Energy Agency, the UK Government, other governments around the world as a means of reducing emissions from continuing to use fuels like gas, particularly in amongst industrial processes.

FRAN KELLY: But we can't make it work, Minister. So far has been elusive. Australia's been chasing it and funding research into it for 15 years or more now - we're still not there. How much-

ANGUS TAYLOR: We are there. I mean, we've seen in Gorgon now-

FRAN KELLY: We're not there on any kind of scale.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Gorgon is a very big project and we're seeing it actually working. Look, the techniques behind carbon capture and storage have been used for decades. It's not new.

FRAN KELLY: But, it hasn't materialised at scale. You must concede that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it is. I mean, the Gorgon Plant in the north-west shelf, it is being used at scale. And you're seeing extraordinary investment in this all around the world now, particularly the United States, you're seeing very significant investment going into carbon capture and storage. So, it's an important technology. It is recognised by the IPCC as an important technology, and by the IEA. And again, the point here is balance. We need many horses in this race - any horse that can win has got to be in the race-

FRAN KELLY: Why don't we just back the winners which are low cost and low emissions - zero emissions technology of solar, wind and pumped-hydro? Why don't we just back a winner?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you need balance. Look it's not just about electricity, this is across all sectors, and it's crucial we have a range of technologies that can play a role in all these sectors. There's been enormous focus, by the way, on electricity which is about a third of our emissions. Two thirds of our emissions are across industry, transport, agriculture and we have to focus on technologies in those areas as well. Of course, carbon capture and storage can play a very, very important role there, on the manufacturing side in particular.

FRAN KELLY: Just one final question, Minister, we are out of time. I'd love to talk transport, but we can do that next time. Notably absent from this is the HELE, the high efficiency low emissions coal plants that some in the coalition have been very keen on. Is the Government not interested, and not prepared, and not going to do any more to support any investment in that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I've seen that reporting. Of course, if you look at page 32 of the report it makes very clear that higher efficiency technologies that can be used in our thermal generators, in coal and gas generators are very, very important. So that is acknowledged in the report in a number of places. But again, the point here is balance, Fran. You know, extreme solutions are not going to work here. We need to have a range of technologies, many horses in the race, and of course, ultimately, we need that balance to deliver not just lower emissions - that's enormously important - but a stronger economy, particularly at this time.

FRAN KELLY: Angus Taylor, thank you very much for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Fran.

ENDS