Lacking ambition seems to be a common theme among a few key leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The idea is for countries (about 200 or so) to come together and share their plans on how they are going to reduce emissions by 2030 to reach an overarching goal of net-zero by 2050.

It follows a decision that was made back in 2015, often referred to as the Paris Accords or Paris Agreement, to keep global warming “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, with the ideal aim being 1.5C below to avoid a severe climate disaster.

However, as the Australian Financial Review reports, major economies such as Russia, China and India have failed to grasp the urgency of climate change – along with Australia, which has sided with these nations to oppose setting a firm deadline to phase out coal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brought his ‘technology not taxes’ plan to the Scottish city as Australia continues to make headlines around the world for having some of the weakest 2030 targets in the developed world – a 26 to 28 per cent reduction in comparison to the US’ 50 to 52 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and the UK’s target of cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035.

In an interview with AFR, Morrison said the only way to enlist developing nations in the fight against climate change was by making available low emissions technology.

“Technology is the way that China can achieve it, India can achieve it, and Indonesia can achieve it,” he said.


A change to Australia’s ‘target’ is unlikely

In an interview with Stockhead, gas analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis Bruce Robertson said it is highly unlikely that much will come out of COP26 for Australia.

Not a change to our so-called net-zero 2050 target anyway, which Morrison said would see more than $20 billion invested in low emissions technologies by 2030 such as soil carbon sequestration – where carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in soil – carbon capture and storage, production of low-emissions steel and other ways to reduce energy use.

“It’s not really a commitment, it’s more like a hope,” he said.

“Australia is going to rely on carbon capture and storage (CSS) to get to net zero by 2050 and that is a technology that has had immense technical difficulties and has been fraught with failure.”

The most recent example of this is Chevron’s Gorgon LNG facility on Barrow Island, about 50km off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast, which Robertson said, “is only storing about 30 per cent of what it said it would.”

While Chevron was meant to bury an average of 80 per cent of its (rather substantial) emissions over a five-year period from 2016, the system only started emissions storage in 2019 – and even after it came online, more issues ensued.

“We haven’t seen carbon capture and storage get cheaper, we’ve seen it, if anything, get less efficacious. In other words, it doesn’t work.

“I don’t see anything that the government is doing … that is helping, we have to look at here and now. We don’t have time to wait for new developments.

“Here and now, we have pumped hydro, wind and solar and a bit of transmission capacity which could substantially decarbonise the economy in the short term.”


What about a methane fee?

Australia has also ruled out cutting methane emissions by 30% to 2030, a deal that the US and EU have recently pledged to and one that has been reported as the single biggest thing governments can do to keep global warming under 2C.

Director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis Tim Buckley said reducing methane is “the biggest bang for our buck” in the near term.

“I really think the Democrats’ idea of a US$1500/t methane fee is spot on. That needs to be applied to just a couple of key carbon polluters and this fee would be the signal to invest in monitoring and rectification.

“Methane is 25% of the global GHG emissions annually, and the fastest growing. I’m pretty sure methane emissions could be halved almost overnight if the fossil gas majors were held to account; venting and leaks would virtually cease immediately if they had to pay for it.”

Now that the International Energy Agency has latched onto this idea as well, Buckley said it “could really take off, particularly as it would be revenue enhancing for the gas majors. Fixing leaks means doing the right thing and getting more product to sell.”