Getting to zero net emissions in 2050 is going to be tough – but Labor committing to it is a damn good thing | Greg Jericho | Opinion

When we look at the path to zero net emissions by 2050 two things stand out – firstly it is exactly in line with Labor’s old policy of a 45% cut by 2030, and secondly the government’s target of a 26% cut is woefully below what is needed.

This week, Anthony Albanese announced that Labor will commit to achieving zero net emissions by 2050.

And let’s state clearly – this is a damn good thing.

You might want to argue that we need to get to zero net earlier, and that’s a worthy argument, but let us not get silly and suggest this target shows the ALP is somehow hostage to fossil fuel companies. This is a massive step for our economy.

Last year Australia expelled 532m tonnes of greenhouse gasses. Aiming to get to zero net in 30 years is not something you can dismiss as a sign of a party doing nothing.

The government is currently refusing to set any target. Instead, the prime minister is talking up his “technology over taxation” approach.

There is a very easy way for the government to demonstrate it agrees with the science on climate change and is committed to reducing emissions – set a target to reduce emissions that agrees with the science.

The IPCC made this pretty clear for governments in its “summary for policymakersreport released in October 2018.

It stated that to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, “human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050”.

We should pause here and note that within six months of this very clear statement, the Coalition went to the election with a target of a 26% cut from 2005 levels by 2030, while the ALP went with a target of a 45% cut.

And of course the focus of the debate from most of the media was on the cost of the 45% cut rather than why the Coalition was ignoring the science.

A damning moment for our media.

Boris Johnson of all people has committed to zero net emissions by 2050, but our government will not, cowed as it is by people such as senator Matt Canavan who tweeted this week: “There is a simple reason that Labor won’t cost its net zero emissions policy because net zero emissions = net zero jobs!”

As the Australian Institute’s Matt Grudnoff noted, “net zero jobs” actually means any jobs lost will be balanced by job gains, which is perhaps not what Canavan is trying to argue.

This brings me to the second point – this is not an astonishing target. It is in effect just what the ALP was already planning.

Getting to zero net emissions by 2050 goes along the same path as aiming for a 45% cut by 2030, as we can see in the graph.

I say this not to discount the policy, but to highlight that given it is in line with what the ALP was already targeting and also is what a conservative government in the UK is planning, the big issue is not that the ALP has this target, but that the government does not.

It is based on the science and it also will greatly benefit our economy.

I have written in the past that getting to zero net zero emissions is going to be tough. If it was easy it would have been done already, so let us not lie and say it can be done with no pain.

It will require a huge change in our economy. But the good news is it will hugely benefit our economy and nation.

The CSIRO has estimated that if we continue on our current path, our GDP out to 2060 will grow by just 2.1% annually; but if we target zero net emissions by 2050, our economy will be so transformed and improved that our GDP will grow on average each year by 2.75% and real wages will be greatly improved.

Doing nothing is not the answer – it is economic degradation.

We must get to zero net emissions by at least 2050, and the ALP target – which will need strong interim targets as well – must be the baseline from which all climate-change policy debate occurs.

Greg Jericho writes on economics for Guardian Australia

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