The title was the gist of a press article I saw. The only two I have seen seem to have been written by ardent supporters. Okay, to the substance. At the end of last week the NSW Government’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment released its Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030. You can read about it here. I read it, not because it was ostensibly about how to deal with climate change, but because what I read from the press suggested it was really about energy, and to a degree it is. I’ll say no more about the climate-change aspect of it (and ask commenters not to talk about that at all), other that the Statement takes for granted the orthodox view of some kind of global ‘climate emergency’.
The Minister’s message starts with two positions that can be seen as mutually incompatible: I firmly believe that action on climate change must be grounded in science and economics — not ideology. Just as it is unacceptable to ignore the challenge posed by climate change, it is also unacceptable to call for an end to the modern way of life. I would agree both positions if my definitions were accepted. But the substance of the Statement makes clear that what is said here is simply incompatible. I remind regular readers that in my recent essay on ‘the nation-state’ I argued that any government’s primary responsibility is to care for the welfare of its own citizens. So my analysis of this Statement is underpinned by that view of the world.
The NSW Government’s objective, says the Statement, is to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 by creating new jobs, cutting household costs and attracting investment. The earlier 2016 Statement of a similar kind, said that its goals were ‘aspirational’, and I think that adjective applies to this one too. The number of new jobs thought to be created is not large when they are mentioned at all, and the rest is wish-fulfilment, I think. Much the same criticism can be applied to the notion that household costs will decline. No doubt there will be new investment, but whether the cost/benefit ratio will be positive is another matter altogether. Since the whole strategy is based on economic modelling that is already based on climate modelling, the achievement of these objectives looks awfully rubbery to me.
Let me press on. The Plan has four parts:
- A global challenge with local opportunities – the trends and opportunities arising from global climate change action
- Progress and projections – progress within New South Wales to date to reduce emissions and future projections
- The net zero priorities – the NSW Government’s net zero priorities
- Keeping track – the Government’s approach to keeping track of its progress.
The plan is intended to create almost 2400 jobs, attract over $11.6 billion in investment over ten years and save households $40 on their electricity bills — yes, a whole $40.
It is expected that approximately $US2.4 trillion will need to be invested globally in the energy system each year for the next 15 years in order to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C.
I’m not surprised, but think such an expectation is simply unattainable, given that over the past decade such investment has been only $2.4 trillion. That is a sharp rise indeed. Soon we get into a mire of costs that depend utterly on what exactly you are measuring Are wind and solar becoming cheaper? It all depends on what you count as costs over the lifetime of fossil-fuel and alternative-energy projects, and what their relative benefits and weaknesses are. Soon come familiar subjects: electric vehicles, hydrogen as a fuel and roof-top solar, all of which have their weaknesses, none of them mentioned in the Statement. How are these changes to be implemented? Ah, it’s simple:
The NSW Government’s first priority is to provide a pathway to deploy those technologies at scale over the next decade. To do this, the NSW Government will remove unnecessary barriers to entry for those technologies and make co-investments to address the high upfront capital costs that may stand in the way of their take-up.
I hear the sound of subsidies, which will, because they come from public revenue, potentially reduce that large $40 reduction in power bills that was heralded earlier. NSW citizens will be empowered to make sensible choices when they buy a car, to feel good about planting trees, and so on.
The NSW Government’s third priority is to accelerate the research, development and demonstration of low emissions technologies that show potential for becoming scalable, replicable and cost-effective. Investment in this area will be focused on linking research with industry, including through grants, low-interest loans and a new clean technology innovation hub.
More subsidies. Researchers will be pleased, and begin to shift their terms of reference from climate-change to ‘emissions reduction’. Not much change, you say? Well, using the right wave-catching language is important when you want money. I’ve seen delicious examples of it in the past.
The fourth priority is for the NSW Government is to lead by example, and all of us would approve in principle. But in this case? Hmm. For those who don’t know these details, each year the NSW Government purchases $20 billion worth of goods and services, employs ten per cent of the State’s workforce, and manages approximately fifteen per cent of the land mass of the State from schools to national parks. That’s a powerful position from which to lead by example. What are they proposing to do? Well, they’re going to bring sustainable goods, practices and services into the market, and maximise the environmental value of the assets they have.
So, there will be a $450 million Emissions Intensity Reduction program that is intended to help businesses to move to low-emissions alternatives, but without compromising their contribution to the NSW economy and workforce. Good luck! That chunk of money is to match what the Commonwealth is putting in to the same endeavour. Then there are to be three Renewable Energy Zones in the South West Central-West and New England. These Zones will help to ‘retire’ fossil fuel generators of electricity over the next two decades. This ‘could’ drive up to $23 billion of private-sector investment and create about 2000 construction jobs. Yes, it ‘could’. It could also refashion the existing coal-fired generators, but of course that’s not part of the plan.
But wait! There’s more! If you buy one we’ll give you two! Whoops, that’s from the TV ad I saw. There’s going to be an Energy Security Safeguard to ensure NSW ‘has access to cheaper, more reliable electricity supplies’. How’s that going to work? By reducing the demand on the electricity and gas networks, through lighting upgrades and replacing the use of grid gas with ‘onsite biomass’. Are we to convert our household rubbish into gas? Hmm. Reducing demand ‘could’ sound worrying. It all sounds vague to me. Now here’s something governments are actually practised at: a new regulatory framework that will bring new low-cost generation into NSW in order to reduce electricity prices, ensure the reliability of the system and protect the environment. All of that with one regulatory framework! Aren’t governments marvellous?
There’s more still, including converting all government buses and other vehicles into EVs, because the people who wrote the Plan/Statement believe all the hype about EVs and ignore the reality and pass over what governments can and will do to force consumers to follow their lead. Where is the electricity to come from?
There’s a lot about agriculture and new national parks (200,000 hectares coming your way) but nothing about managing the ones we have, some of which were so poorly cared for that they almost disappeared in the recent bushfires.
I’m running close to my own word limit, but I can’t resist the splendid hypocrisy of this little gem: Mining will continue to be an important part of the economy into the future and it is important that the State’s action on climate change does not undermine those businesses and the jobs and communities they support.
Oh dear, you’ve remembered that you should look after the people of New South Wales. Great! But what about thinking globally and acting locally? Oh, you’d like to have your cake and eat it too. So would we all.
Finally, there is to be a Green Investment Strategy… but I can’t go on. You’ll have to read that for yourself, and maybe scratch your head in wonderment. That’ll need a good parcel of public funds if it is to work. Don’t do it, Government. The money will just disappear, and NSW won’t be any greener for it. Oh, and biofuels for aircraft. Heavens. And they’re going to measure their success on a regular basis. I can hardly wait.
ENDNOTE:This essay is NOT about climate change or global warming, and I ask commenters to restrict themselves to the argument of government paper on which it is based. I will moderate all comments, and empty any that I think stray too far from the real subject.