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Is there “wiggle room” in the Morrison Government's net-zero by 2050 pledge?

Fed Election Fact Checker Wiggle room Social Media Tile 800x800

The claim

Liberal National Party candidate for Flynn, Colin Boyce, described the government’s net-zero emissions pledge as “not binding”. Boyce told the ABC on Monday 25 April 2022:

“It leaves us wiggle room as we proceed into the future. Morrison’s statement that he has made is not binding. There will be no legislation attached to it.”

The claim refers to the Coalition’s plan to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, titled Australia’s Long Term Emissions Reduction Plan, which was released by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor on 26 October 2021.


Developed ahead of the COP26 talks in Glasgow held in November 2020, the Coalition’s Long Term Emissions Reduction Plan lays out that Australia has already reduced its carbon emissions by 20 per cent on 2005 levels. A commitment to net-zero by 2050 was considered the bare minimum target for governments around the world in a bid to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Next, the Coalition’s Technology Investment Roadmap (TIR) aims to provide a further emissions reduction of 40 per cent. The TIR includes the following priority technologies and economic stretch goals: ultra-low-cost solar at $15 per MWh, carbon capture and storage at $20 per tonne of CO2, ‘clean’ hydrogen production under $2 per kilogram, electricity from storage for firming under $100 per MWh, low emissions steel production under $700 per tonne (based on the marginal cost), low emissions aluminium under $2200 per tonne (based on the marginal cost), and soil organic carbon measurement under $3 per hectare per year.

The Plan claims that a further 15 per cent emissions reduction will be achieved through ‘global technology trends’, which the Morrison Government describes as ‘like EVs powered by zero emissions electricity or fuels.’

‘International and domestics offsets’ then account for a 10-20 per cent reduction in emissions where ‘sources of offsets include voluntary soil carbon of up to 20 per cent, depending on cost reductions in technology and voluntary demand.’

The final 15 per cent will be achieved through unspecified ‘further technology breakthroughs’.

“Under our Plan, the Technology Investment Roadmap and global trends will see Australia reduce its emissions by 85 per cent by 2050. We are committed to closing the gap to net zero over the next three decades in a way that is consistent with Liberal Party and National Party values,” said Taylor.

Modelling for the Long Term Emissions Reduction Plan was provided by McKinsey and Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources analysis, according to the government’s document.

In announcing the plan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said:

“Australia now has a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and we have a clear plan for achieving it.

“The Plan will deliver results through technology, not taxes. It respects people’s choice, and will not force mandates on what people can do or buy. It guarantees that we keep downward pressure on energy prices and secures reliable power. It will ensure Australia continues to serve traditional markets, while taking advantage of new economic opportunities.

“The Plan has the prosperity and wellbeing of regional Australia at its core. We have an opportunity to act now to harness existing regional strengths, unlock new areas of growth, and diversify economic activity in regions. We will invest in rural and regional Australia to ensure it succeeds and is protected under the Plan.”

The Coalition’s targets would not be cemented in legislation, but would include “five-yearly reviews that will enable us to evaluate progress, and adapt to advances in technology.”

What the experts say

The 2022 Climate Change Performance Index, released on 9 November 2021 ranked Australia 58th, trailing many developed economies.

Its report said that the TIR was “insufficient for decarbonising the economy, reducing the use of fossil fuels, promoting renewable energy, and setting out how national greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced (with a rating of very low for Climate Policy).”

The United Nations Secretary-General recently called Australia a "holdout" given that the Coalition has no plans to strengthen its 2030 emissions reduction target.

"A growing number of G20 developed economies have announced meaningful emissions reductions by 2030 - with a handful of holdouts, such as Australia," Antonio Guterres said.

Tim Stephens, Professor of International Law, University of Sydney, points out that without legally binding targets “The Federal Government cannot compel industry and others to reduce their emissions, and itself is not held to account.”

Richard Black, senior associate at the Energy & Climate Change Intelligence Unit said that Australia was “in the same camp very much as the Saudis” in presenting “an alternative vision of how you can get to net zero” while still burning fossil fuels.

In May 2021, the European Council adopted climate change legislation whereby its 27 nations are bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 (from 1990 levels) and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Spain, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Hungary and New Zealand all have their emissions targets enshrined by law.

Just this week, investment ratings agency S&P Global Ratings labelled the Morrison Government’s energy policies as “obscure”, “unclear,” and “confusing”.

“Australia’s energy transition to 2050 relies on technology changes and lower costs. This includes low-cost solar, energy storage for firming capacity, clean hydrogen, and carbon-capture solutions. Policies on how this will be achieved are opaque,” S&P Global says.

The verdict


The Coalition may have an agreement in place for Australia to reach net-zero by 2050, however as this federal election campaign has shown over the last week, our nation’s much derided ‘climate wars’ are far from over.

As it stands, the Coalition’s Long Term Emissions Reductions Plan is heavily reliant on technology that has not been proven at scale and only gets Australia to emissions reduction of 85 per cent on 2005 levels without further technological improvements.

If that’s not wiggle room, we don’t know what is.

As a result, the Clean Energy Council finds that Liberal National Party candidate for Flynn, Colin Boyce’s claim that the Coalition’s net-zero plan has wiggle room to be accurate.