Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast

Fran Kelly
COP26, emissions targets, coal exports, economic modelling

FRAN KELLY: The Morrison Government has already rejected objectives of the Glasgow climate pact just hours after agreeing to the deal at the UN negotiations which wrapped up over the weekend. The COP26 final communique calls for coal to be phased down and for all countries to commit to higher near-term carbon cuts by this time next year. But the Government says it won't be closing any coal mines or coal-fired power stations, while Australia's 2030 emissions target is fixed and will not be reset. Angus Taylor is the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reductions. Angus Taylor, welcome back to Breakfast.

ANGUS TAYLOR: G’day, Fran. And can I congratulate the T20 team. What a fantastic outcome.

FRAN KELLY: Yep - they were underdogs coming in, I think, but anyway, they're champions going out. Minister, no stronger 2030 target, no end to coal, that's after agreeing to the Glasgow climate pact. You signed it but you don't mean it. Is that right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, that's not correct, Fran. Look, we, as you know, update our projections every year for 2030. We're on track to meet and beat our 2030 targets. In fact, we're on track to bring our emissions down by up to 35 per cent. And our track record on this is extremely strong. We are on track right now, our emissions are down almost 21 per cent. It's a stronger position than Canada, Japan, New Zealand, United States, the OECD average. And when we update our projections each year, they can be banked. We have always delivered on them. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: You know, people have questioned this all the way along- 

FRAN KELLY:  Sure. Sure. But that's not the process. That's not the process. The final communique says: ‘request parties to revisit and strengthen their 2030 targets by November next year.’ Not their projections, their targets. Australia's formal target is 26 to 28 per cent. It's one of the weakest in the developed world. Your own projections points to cuts, as you've just said, of 35 per cent cuts being easily achievable. You signed the communique, why won't you follow through on what you've just agreed to do in Glasgow?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the clause you're referring to is a request made in light of national circumstances and there's two points I would make about our national circumstances. One is we're almost unique amongst developed countries with an economy specialised in the production of energy intensive commodities and agricultural commodities. And second, we have a process, which is proven, which has delivered far more than most countries in the world in terms of emissions reduction. And that process is one where we update projections each year. We set our targets at the beginning of the appropriate decade, we update our projections each year, and we deliver, and we deliver with extraordinary level of transparency. And can I say, Fran, that the great outcome of this COP, which was reflected in the communique, was a level of transparency which will be standardised worldwide, where we are leading the world, and where we are also going to have a trading of credits across international boundaries with real integrity. And we've led, again, the world on our credit creation through the Emissions Reduction Fund. These are great victories, they are great outcomes, and we applaud them.

FRAN KELLY: You want to be a world leader, but you won't back yourself and put it in a pledge. Will you take 26 to 28 per cent as a formal target to the next election? Or will the Coalition go to the election with a 2035 target, which a number of backbenchers, including Jason Falinski, say should be announced?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's talk about 2035. China and the United States agreed last week that they would set their 2035 targets in 2025. This is something you do in the lead-up to the next decade. This process is very clear. We set our target prior to the decade. We did that in the lead-up, of course, to 2020, which is the decade we're in now. And then we update our projections every year in a way that is more transparent than almost any other country in the world, Fran. And we beat them. And we beat them, you know.

FRAN KELLY:  Yeah, but Minister, it's nonsense to say that, that we set our targets at the beginning, when your whole roadmap is about new technologies coming on that we haven't even imagined yet that are going to get us to your next target.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Hang on, let me pick you up on that-

FRAN KELLY:  We've seen so much of that since this was signed in 2015. Why not follow your own philosophy, accept technology has allowed more ambition, and formalise it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let me push back on that. This is the narrative that's been running on the ABC and it is wrong.

FRAN KELLY: Well, no. It just seems obvious to me. It's not a narrative.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Hang on, let me, I do need to push back on the point you've just been making, Fran. Now, we have laid out in our modelling our priority technologies. In fact, we've added to them in recent weeks at COP. And they are priority technologies that won't just bring emissions down and get us to net zero by 2050 in Australia, but will support our customer countries and countries across the world, particularly developing countries to achieve that.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Now, you talk about technologies that aren't even known. Let's be clear about this, the final-

FRAN KELLY: Well, there's 15 per cent of them, you said.

ANGUS TAYLOR: The final 15 per cent-


ANGUS TAYLOR: The final 15 per cent which is what you're referring to, the technologies we expect to play a role there are primarily technologies we are already investing in. And let me give you a couple of examples.

FRAN KELLY: But you don't say that. You don't say what the- 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. We do. Let's be clear. People who say this need to read the plan and need to read the modelling. They need to read it. Let me give you a couple of examples of this. Feed supplements for cattle. We know methane reduction in agriculture is one of the most difficult challenges we face, and that's a core piece of that final 15 per cent. We're investing now in feed supplements that can support the reduction of methane.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Secondly, alumina refining. We know this is a difficult area of our economy and a very important area of our economy to decarbonise. We're investing now in technologies that can do that, based on hydrogen. Now, they are not technologies that are as advanced as, for example, clean hydrogen that can be used for fertiliser production or in agriculture in more traditional ways. They are technologies that are very well known, we understand them, we know how to bring down the cost, we have a pathway to do it, we've set dates to do it, and we can get on with it. These other technologies, they're known, we understand them, but there's a lot of work to be done. And there's a final one I'll mention, which is an extraordinary one, low emissions cement. We saw at COP, 2700 small businesses applied with new technologies for a competition, which an Australian company called MCI out of Newcastle won for low-emissions cement. So, this is another technology in that final 15 per cent we know we've got to get to. We've got Australian world beating businesses behind it. We're investing in it heavily, and we're confident we can get there, which is why it's such an important part of the plan.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, you're confident, you're confident you'll get there. You're confident we're beating our projected target for 2030, but you won't formalise it. So come 2025, Australia will still be stuck with the target that Tony Abbott announced a whole decade earlier. One thing was clear from Glasgow, this is the critical decade, this decade now, the language is increasingly urgent. 1.5 degrees Celsius will only be reached if there are: “Rapid, deep and sustained cuts and the global 45 per cent reduction by 2030.” Does the Government support the aim of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We absolutely support the Paris agreement goals which is to come in below 2 degrees- 

FRAN KELLY: Of 1.5 degrees? That's my question - 1.5 degrees.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And seek, make best efforts to get to 1.5 degrees. I mean, that is how Paris is framed. But let me be clear, I'm going to push back on what you just said, Fran, because I think it's important- 


ANGUS TAYLOR: I think it's important that I get the opportunity to respond to these points. By 2025, we will have a set of projections which are bankable, in Australia's case, not necessarily in other country's case- 

FRAN KELLY: No. Not in terms of the global accounting.

ANGUS TAYLOR: When we put them out, we have always beaten them. And we will have those updated every year, not every five years.


ANGUS TAYLOR: We update them every year. Now, find me another country in the world that is as rigorous, is as transparent, is as clear on this as Australia.

FRAN KELLY: Alright, we're talking about the formalities.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We do it every year.

FRAN KELLY: But look, we're going to run out of time. I need to go to another element of the communique which Australia signed. The statement commits to accelerating efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. It was watered down from phase out to phase down. Boris Johnson says it spells the death knell for coal. Australia's Resources Minister Keith Pitt says it's an economic win for Australia: “that we won't be closing mines and closing coal-fired power stations.” Will the Government take any steps at to phase down coal mining or coal-fired power, or only leave it to the market? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: As our customers change their demand, we'll change our supply with it. We're not going to lecture emerging countries like India and throughout south-east Asia. We're not going to lecture them on what their fuel mix needs to be at any point in time, Fran. And if we were to cut our exports to them, whether it's gas or coal, metallurgical coal, which is needed for steel making, if we were to cut our exports to them, emissions globally and in their countries would go up. So that is a false economy. It's just not, it's not sensible policy. But we will- 

FRAN KELLY: So is it fair to say then, is it fair to describe it as this, as other countries left their climate ambition, and our coal export markets will reduce it's, in other words, other countries making the decision to phase down Australian coal. The government won't be driving that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, our exports will be driven by customer demand. I mean, they always are. That's what good businesses do. It's what good countries do. We support them. Now, it is crucial, it is absolutely crucial that as that demand changes, as our customers look to low emissions technologies - and that's happening in places like Japan and Korea already - we need to adapt. It's why we need to build a clean ammonia, clean hydrogen industry for export. We're investing heavily in that, alongside the private sector now. So, we will be working with our customer countries to do this. And by us investing in these low emissions technologies, we give them options to bring down their emissions in a way which helps to reach those Paris goals- 

FRAN KELLY: Okay, but your economic modelling which- 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And that's why the investment- you know, the focus here is on shutting things. Our focus is on fixing things, on bringing the cost of low emissions technologies down so that customers naturally buy them. 

FRAN KELLY: Yes, but a lot of the focus is on ending coal in terms of the globe, the planet, ultimately getting to 1.5 degree increase in cooling limiting. The economic modelling released on Friday for your climate plan shows the Government still intends for Australia to be one of the world's biggest fossil fuel exporters in 2050, shipping close to $100 billion a year in coal and gas. Is that correct? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, the very important point here, Fran, that is being missed is there's no point shutting things unless and until you're providing alternatives, and our goal is to provide the alternatives. Because if we shut energy sectors in developing countries, if we shut them out from access to fuel, the economic consequences of that for poorer countries would be devastating. So, the goal is, from our point of view, to make sure we've got the low-emissions technologies, technologies like clean hydrogen, whether blue or green, as long as it's clean, so that they have access to the fuel sources that allow them to bring down emissions. So, our goal, our goal is on bringing down the cost of low emissions technologies, not wiping things out, and that is what our customers want. It's what's right for our regions and it's what's right for Australia.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally, the COP26 President, Alok Sharma said countries will be judged by whether or not they stick to the commitments they've made. Has the rest of the world already judged Australia? The Climate Action Network, which is an umbrella organisation of 100 climate action groups, awarded Australia overnight or over the weekend, the colossal fossil award at COP26 for the country deemed the least helpful in meeting the objectives of the meeting.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh look, we don't respond - our policy isn't driven by activists, which is what they are, Fran. Let's be clear about that. And I know that the US and UK were in the same basket. You know, these are countries like us that have substantially reduced emissions in recent years, in contrast to China, whose emissions have risen by 70 per cent. You know, you've got to get your priorities right here. And we are focused on what's in Australia's interest, what's in the interest of our customer countries in our region, and getting to that overall global outcome, which is what really counts here.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us again on Breakfast.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Fran.