Scott Morrison will use a global climate action summit organised by the United States president Joe Biden to foreshadow a spend of $565.8m over the next eight years to build international collaboration to drive development of some low emissions technologies.
The Australian prime minister will tell the virtual summit during a contribution expected on Thursday night that he wants to build practical, project-based international partnerships to accelerate new energy technologies and drive down costs. The spending, to be confirmed in the May budget, will be accompanied by additional domestic investment in hydrogen hubs and carbon capture and storage projects.
The government says priority countries for future international collaboration on investments in low emissions technology include the US, UK, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Singapore, as well as India, Canada and New Zealand.
Priority technologies include hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, low or zero emissions steel production, low carbon alumina and aluminium production, and zero carbon liquefied natural gas production and shipping to Asian countries.
Australia is under acute pressure going into Biden’s summit about its comparative lack of ambition on climate action, and experts suggest the Morrison government will have to increase spending on technological development significantly if it is to keep pace with new energy economy investments happening in the US, Britain and Europe.
The Biden administration is set to announce a 2030 pledge to cut emissions twice as deep as Australia’s as the president hosts 40 world leaders at the virtual summit. New announcements are also expected from Japan, Canada and South Korea, with the possibility of China following later this year ahead of a major climate conference in Glasgow in November.
Following recommendations of the government’s statutory climate advisers, Britain will cut carbon dioxide by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels – an increase from the current target of a 68% reduction by 2030. Australia’s emissions reduction target for 2030 is a cut of between 26 and 28% on 2005 levels.
While Morrison hyped the potential for hydrogen during a visit to a marginal electorate on the Central Coast of New South Wales on Wednesday, declaring Australia could develop “hydrogen valleys” like Silicon Valley in the US, recent research conducted for the United Nations environment program quantifying “green recovery” spending by major economies put Australia at the bottom of the list.
Morrison has this week foreshadowed spending of $275.5m over five years to accelerate the development of four additional clean hydrogen hubs, with some of the funding to be allocated in the run up to next year’s federal election. But the recent research from Oxford University’s Economic Recovery Project showed Germany – a likely partner with Australia in one of the projects – spent $9bn on hydrogen alone as part of the Covid-19 recovery.
The investor community has told the Morrison government it needs to increase ambition by 2030 if Australia is to comply with the Paris agreement goal of attempting to limit global heating to 1.5C and hold capital in the country when other jurisdictions have more stable climate change policies. But the government is not expected to make new concrete commitments at the Biden summit.
The government has identified new battery technologies and critical minerals as potential avenues for collaboration between Australia and the Biden administration, as well as soil carbon projects.
Australia could also pursue collaborative research and development on small modular nuclear reactor technologies with the UK and the US. The government says the aim is to “catalyse between $3 and $5 of co-investment for every dollar invested”.
Australia’s former chief scientist Alan Finkel is an enthusiastic backer of hydrogen. In a statement about the funding for international collaboration, Finkel said collaboration with other like-minded countries on development and deployment of new technologies would lower the cost of any transition to net zero emissions and “accelerate their adoption”.