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Why is ‘carbon-offset’ such a dirty word?

2 October 2021

9:00 AM

2 October 2021

9:00 AM

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has belled the cat. It is the Western world’s international financiers, not Australia’s best interests, that have dictated that Australia must embrace zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 preceded by tougher reductions by 2030. Otherwise, says Frydenberg, our sources of international funds will dry up, our exports will be threatened and our economy put at risk. Bad luck about our carbon-intensive exports that Australia’s economic strength relies on, or our cheap reliable fossil-fuelled energy. But now that we have to have zero, let it be our way, not the economically suicidal method the European/US climate catastrophists will seek to impose on Australia (and the rest of our Indo-Pacific region) at November’s climate summit in Glasgow.

The self-serving Western nations’ approach to climate change demands that net zero greenhouse gas emissions be achieved, no matter the economic consequences, by ceasing to emit them, so effectively destroying emitting industries (particularly those in our region who are our major export customers). But the significance of the word ‘net’ has been lost in the polemic. It means only after the capture and removal of greenhouse gases has offset emissions. So why is there no EU-UK-US joint campaign, or Glasgow agenda, demanding the world take urgent action to come up with CO2 removal offsets targets (Anthropogenic CO2 removal – CDR – in officialese) along the lines of the sanctified emissions pledges? And how about including commitments for carbon capture utilisation and storage, restoring the carbon content of land and other technological offset solutions already in use or under way?

This would be in line with the International Energy Agency’s pathway to net zero by 2050, which the woke West uses to berate the world’s climate laggards. It includes IEA’s recognition that it would be ‘virtually impossible’ to hit global environmental targets without new and untested carbon capture technology. ‘Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) contributes to the transition to net zero in multiple ways including tackling emissions from existing energy assets, providing solutions in some sectors where emissions are harder to reduce like cement, supporting the rapid scaling up of low-emissions hydrogen production and enabling some CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere’. Even the latest hallowed IPCC report’s advice to policymakers has ‘high confidence’ that ‘Anthropogenic CO2 removal has the potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and durably store it in reservoirs’ in enough quantities to ‘lower the atmospheric CO2 concentration and reverse surface ocean acidification’.

But there is no will in the West to proceed down this offsets path that would ease the pressure on our region by effectively buying us more time. In any event, to climate true believers, carbon offsets mean only one thing: the rapidly expanding business of polluters buying offsets instead of cutting their own emissions. According to Allied Market Research, the global CCUS market generated $1.9 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $7 billion in 2030 due to a combination of greater corporate concerns about emissions and government support. However, a task force co-founded by Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor, has estimated that the market could be worth $50bn by 2030. The controversial nature of carbon offset projects has been largely due to the difficulty in verifying them, a problem the Morrison government is addressing through its May budget funding the development of sequestration measurement technologies.

There are plenty of reasons why offsets that remove CO2 from the atmosphere are not likely to be promoted at Glasgow despite their potential to diminish the economic damage from the woke West’s one-eyed focus only on preventing CO2 entering the atmosphere in the first place. There is no place in the global warming warriors’ ritual for a campaign for any form of offsets; environmental warriors would revolt at what they regard as simply an excuse to slow down the rate of chopping out the fossil fuels that are driving climate change.

On that score, it is evident that Indo-Pacific emissions have been on a steep upward curve, while the West strives for CO2 purity. As my former Senate colleague Ron Boswell recently pointed out in the Australian, by rich nations outsourcing the production of manufactured goods, mostly to China and other developing countries, their  lowered emissions footprints artificially made them look green despite their increasing consumption of these carbon-intensive items. Boswell’s statistics tell the story: ‘While emissions from industrial processes in European industry fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2018, overall global emissions in this sector increased by 67 per cent. So from an emissions perspective Europe looks good and China and other industrial producers look bad’.

In this mix is the realisation that there are problems in relying on foreign supply lines (with Britain suffering a seriously disruptive shortage in industrial CO2 coinciding ironically with its leading role in nagging the world to reduce atmospheric CO2: why not just pull it out of the sky, which Icelanders are now doing with exciting new offset technology?) This reinforces the West’s evident desire to use climate change as a weapon to win back, particularly from the increasingly significant Indo-Pacific region, its former industrial leadership status once the polluting industries it off-shored have been emissions-purified by technological change. This has the side benefit of denting the industrial omnipotence of the Chinese dragon while the rest of us in the region will be the usual collateral damage.

An example of the potential brought by climate change-induced technological change was last month’s history-making  Swedish company’s first-ever delivery of steel produced without using metallurgical coal as a trial run before full commercial production in 2026. With China currently producing 1,065 mta or 57 per cent of the world’s steel (mainly for domestic consumption) and dominating finished steel equivalent exports with 27 per cent of the total, nearly all from coal-consuming blast furnaces, there would clearly be scope for climate-conscious Europeans to use already-threatened carbon tariffs to assist the economics of their potentially new (and much more expensive) ‘clean steel’.

So what sort of bad news will come out of Glasgow for our emissions-prone region? Like most of its predecessors, Glasgow will be a failure if the producer-polluters in the Asia-Pacific defy the consumer-polluters’ hypocritical emissions demands. But without sanctions for failing to meet pledges that do not fall due until the political pledge-makers have long-since left the scene, it is likely that the threats of financial constraints, such as those encouraging the Frydenberg acquiescence, could prompt a plethora of puffed-up pledges to create a façade of what passes for success.

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