OPINION: Zero Emissions Target Is Just Stupid

January 04, 2017

As appeared in the Daily Telegraph 4th January 2017

Here’s an idea. Pay a lot more for your electricity, give up your car and become a vegan. In return, you’ll pay a lot more in
taxes but get nothing at all. Sound like a good deal?

It’s worth considering given the NSW government’s recent announcement of an “aspirational” target of net zero emissions for NSW by 2050.

This target is far more ambitious than current global commitments on climate change and would require radical action and cost billions, while making no difference to the problem it’s supposed to be solving.

NSW is responsible for about 0.4 per cent of global emissions. Eliminating them would make no difference to temperatures. However, the measures required to do so have potentially massive economic and social costs.

Our economy depends on affordable and reliable energy. Electricity generation accounts for about 35 per cent of NSW emissions. Eliminating those emissions would require the complete replacement of our existing electricity generation system with renewables or nuclear power.

Nuclear power is not a political option, and the part-time nature of renewable energy means between two to four times the required capacity would need to be installed to guarantee supply, costing many billions.

Wind farms may be popular in Sydney, but not so popular in regional communities next to the turbines. All of our existing power stations and the mines that supply most of them would need to be shut, with more pain for regional communities. Thousands of jobs would be lost, and those responsible would bear the electoral cost, as well as the responsibility for any South Australian-style energy crisis.

But such dramatic action on electricity would not be enough. Further radical measures would be required to
meet a net zero emissions target.

Transport accounts for about 19 per cent of NSW emissions, including 9 per cent from cars. We would need to transform our entire car fleet to electricity or biofuels. Emissions from agriculture, including from cattle and sheep, account for about 12 per cent of NSW emissions. Eliminating those emissions would require the culling of all sheep and cattle in NSW and the biggest barbecue in history before we all become vegans.

But even if we replace our entire energy system, replace our entire vehicle fleet, and eliminate sheep and
cattle, it still wouldn’t be enough.

This “net zero emissions” target is the latest in a long list of lofty announcements on climate change from political parties on both sides. But politicians chasing cheap green headlines should remember that gesture politics can come at a high price for
everyone, including at the ballot box.

Stephen Galilee is CEO of the NSW Minerals Council

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