Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast
22 April 2021
Subject: Climate change policies and new initiatives
FRAN KELLY: The Prime Minister has announced a $566 million investment in clean energy research ahead of attending, later tonight, the global climate summit hosted by the US President, Joe Biden. The Australian Government is seeking to partner with other countries to develop new carbon cutting technologies including batteries, green steel and even small modular nuclear reactors. Despite this new money on the table the Prime Minister is still expected to come under pressure to increase Australia's greenhouse reduction targets. Many other countries, many other world leaders, rather, using this Biden summit to announce their own more ambitious commitments. The UK is leading the pack pledging to slash carbon output by 78 per cent by 2035. Angus Taylor is the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Joe Biden's called this summit of world leaders to try and galvanise stronger action and ambition on climate change. The focus will be on more aggressive short term targets, will Australia do what a number of other countries are doing and increase our 2030 commitment of 26 to 28 per cent? Which looks increasingly inadequate, if we're to keep temperature rises below one and a half degrees Celsius, or even below two degrees.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Fran, we update our projections for 2030 every year and we've always improved those since we've been in Government, as we did with Kyoto-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] We haven't changed the target of 26 to 28 per cent?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've improved our performance. And what matters at the end of the day-
FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] Yeah, no, I'm talking about the target.
ANGUS TAYLOR: What matters here, at the end of the day, globally, is outcomes. That's what counts, Fran. Because that's how, that's how you make sure that you don't see rising temperatures. You've got to deliver the outcomes. Now on that, Australia is a world beater. We are seeing Australia has beaten New Zealand, Canada, France, the United States, and many other countries, and the challenge we have now, the challenge we have now as we are seeing emissions coming down in the developed world, is to make sure that this is a global outcome. And that we also get the emissions coming down in in the developing world, and the key to that is investment in technologies that are economic, that can strengthen economies, that can create jobs, that can drive investment, and create opportunities for growing countries. And-
FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] But you say what matters is outcomes, but if-
ANGUS TAYLOR: And bring down emissions at the same time.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: And the $1.1 billion investment, which is on top of $18 billion we've committed to clean technologies, is all about, not just to achieving emissions reduction in Australia, Fran, but achieving emissions reduction across the globe, which is what is necessary here to actually deliver the outcomes, which is what counts at the end of the day.
FRAN KELLY: I'll come to the technology announcement. But you say, what matters is outcomes. But the outcomes aren't going to be good enough if our target is only 26 to 28 per cent, is it?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] I mean, that commitment is already redundant if you look at the rest of the world. Joe Biden is expected to use the summit to reduce America's target to 50 per cent cut of 2005 levels by 2030. The EU has locked in 55 per cent.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well-
FRAN KELLY: The UK is way out in front on 78 per cent. Why would Australia be regarded as a good global citizen just because we're on track to meet targets that are half of what other industrialised countries are shooting for?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I dispute those numbers, but the point is that Australia, per capita, is setting a goal of 50 per cent reduction. 70 per cent on an emissions intensity base. But the key here is, you know, politicians promises are one thing, delivery is what counts. And there's lots of countries that have made promises in the past and pulled out. We saw Europe, we saw Canada-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] Yeah, but we've got to have ambition in what we want to deliver, don't we? If you don't have the ambition of what you’re shooting for, well then it's not enough.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, absolutely. And our targets are always a floor on our emissions, not a cap. They always have been. We beat our Kyoto targets by 469 million tonnes. Almost a year's worth of emissions, Fran. There was almost no other country in the world that could boast that kind of outcome. So, they're a floor on our emissions, not a cap, and we'll continue to improve our performance. I'm very confident this year we'll see updated projections which are an improvement on the previous year. I’m very confident. And that is always-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] I'm sure we will, I'm sure we probably will. But, we're still only shooting for 26 to 28 per cent, while other countries are adopting more aggressive cuts. You're announcing this $570 million plan to commercialise low emission technologies. How's that going to convince the rest of the world-
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Fran, I just-
FRAN KELLY: That we're serious about playing our part in mitigating climate change?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Fran, I just told you that that's not what we're shooting for. We always shoot to meet and beat our targets. That's exactly what we seek to do. But we deliver, and this is what counts. You know, you can talk all you like about this, people can talk all they like about this, wherever they like, but what counts at the end of the day is delivery, and delivery means-
FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] So, set the bar low and then you over deliver? Is that the style?
ANGUS TAYLOR: No, we don't set the bar low. We aim to meet and beat, and that is the point. It's always been our approach. We've always done it. Now, people told us during the Kyoto era, which finished in 2020 last year, that we wouldn't be able to meet and beat. Well, we did. We proved them wrong and we proved them wrong every time.
FRAN KELLY: Sure. Okay.
ANGUS TAYLOR: And we will here. And the key to it, Fran, the key is practical action that doesn't raise electricity bills, that doesn't destroy jobs, that strengthens economies, that drives investment. And that's exactly what we're doing with our focus on clean energy technologies that deliver, not just across the whole economy, but particularly, in regional parts of Australia where the impacts of all of this has the potential to deliver the worst outcomes, but also the best outcomes if we get it right. That’s what we are focused on.
FRAN KELLY: I will come to some of your announcements, but I want to go to the practical action that 101 Nobel Laureates have come together to call for, which is call out against the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. They've labelled that as unconscionable, and they say there must be a halt to the expansion of fossil fuels. Now, I'm just, point to the fact that just last weekend our Prime Minister got together with South Australia with $422 million to unlock new gas reserves. Are the Nobel Laureates wrong? Can we just keep unlocking more coal and gas reserves without adding to emissions? Is that what you believe?
ANGUS TAYLOR: You know, Fran, the goal here is not to declare war on an industry. It's actually-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] No. I'm not suggesting it is.
ANGUS TAYLOR: No, well, let me finish. It's not to declare war on any industry, it's to bring down emissions. Now, there are technologies that allow us to use gas, with lower emissions. We've got Allam Cycle technology that allow-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] But we have, we have gas now.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, hang on. Let me finish. Technology which Alan Finkel and I have both spent a great deal of time looking at, it's progressing well, that allows us to deliver zero emissions electricity from gas. We are seeing, even yesterday we saw at Star Scientific on the Central Coast of Australia, technology that allows us to use our coal fired generators with zero emissions. These technologies are advancing fast. This is not about declaring war on an industry, as some would like to do. It's not about declaring war on jobs in regional Australia. It's actually about bringing down emissions with the practical actions and the sensible approaches that allow us to strengthen our economy, keep energy costs down, electricity bills down, and create jobs, and that's, that's where we'll all-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] Minister, I'm not about declaring war on those industries. I mean, the Prime Minister himself gave a speech this week making very clear that the jobs that are currently in the mining sector will need to transition as the world transitions, and we will have, as he said, world-beating new renewable technologies that will provide these sort of jobs. That's what his announcement was like. But do you believe that the Nobel Laureates are wrong when they say - I mean, let me ask you positively - do you believe we can keep extracting more gas and more coal for as long as we want without adding to emissions?
ANGUS TAYLOR: I believe that what has to change over time, and this is the point that the Prime Minister was making, is the technologies we use to generate energy, to grow our food, to produce all the goods that we rely on every day through manufacturing - those technologies need to change. The fuel sources will evolve, but we know that there's technologies available now that allow us to use coal-fired generators without the emissions we've seen in the past. We know that there's technologies emerging fast now that allow us to use gas-fired generators in ways that they haven't in the past, and bring down emissions at the same time. Now, that's the key. Let's focus on the goal here, and this is where I think a lot of this debate gets lost. We've got to deliver outcomes in terms of emissions reduction. That must be the goal. Technology is the key.
FRAN KELLY: Okay.
ANGUS TAYLOR: It's always been the key for humans solving hard problems, and it will be the key here. We're already seeing the impact of that.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: In Australia, one in four houses with household solar on the roof, highest in the world.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, technology is the key. I think we've agreed on that before on this program. You've announced this week $540 million for new hydrogen hubs, and carbon capture and storage. The hydrogen hubs, a lot of people have been asking me, here on this program, is it green hydrogen? Or hydrogen made the fossil fuels?
ANGUS TAYLOR: It's clean hydrogen.
FRAN KELLY: What's that mean?
ANGUS TAYLOR: That's, that's the point. It's clean hydrogen. Again, let's not declare war on industries-
FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] So it's not made with fossil fuels? I'm not declaring war. I'm asking was it made with fossil fuels? Or is it made with renewable energy?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the point that many make when they're asking that question is we can't possibly make anything from fossil fuels. Well, you know what? If it's zero emissions, it's fine. That's the point. It's got to be clean, and this is the point that Alan Finkel-
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] Okay. So, it will be made with fossil fuels, and how do we make it zero emissions?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it will be made with anything that allows us to reduce emissions. There's blue hydrogen that can be done with zero emissions. There's green hydrogen that can be done with zero emissions. You know, we need a lot of horses in this race. When we are seeing a situation where we have to bring down emissions, and we do, we have to have every tool in the toolkit available. Ruling things out because, for some reason, people don't like them is the wrong way to solve this problem. The right way to solve it is to have every tool in the tool kit.
FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] So we can burn fossil fuels-
ANGUS TAYLOR: And that includes blue hydrogen as well as green, but the focus here is on clean hydrogen. The focus here is on clean energy. And we can achieve that with the technologies that are emerging in Australia. Now, we have, on the central coast of New South Wales, Star Scientific. A company that has worked out how to retro-fit into our coal fired generators to produce energy at zero emissions. This is an Australian world beating innovation which we saw yesterday. And this is how we're going to do it, Fran. It's practical, it's real, it's not ideological, and it delivers outcomes, and that's exactly what's happening in Australia right now. That's why we are doing so well on our emissions reductions. It is why we're 19 per cent down on our 2005 level. It is why we're on track to 70 per cent reduction in our emissions intensity. All of those things are happening because of the practical actions of Australians. Our engineers, our entrepreneurs, our innovators, our scientists. All of us have to align to achieve these goals in a way which is going to create jobs, not destroy them.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Fran.