06 September 2021

When Murdoch endorses the "Net zero 2050" climate goal, you know it is the problem and not the answer

 by David Spratt

DOWNLOAD Briefing Paper: Net zero 2050 is a dangerous illusion

The Murdoch/News Ltd global media empire, which makes a living out of post-science politics, promoting Covid vaccine denialism and providing a platform for climate skepticism, has decided to swing its weight behind the "net zero 2050" (NZ2050) climate goal, according to media reports.

The decision is being coordinated across Murdoch mastheads, a clear sign that the newspapers owners, not individual editors, call the tune and that editorial independence is a myth. 

Writing for RenewEconomy, Ketan Joshi declared that "News Corp hasn’t seen the light on climate – they’re just updating their tactics". And the tactic is two-fold: to smooth the climate path for Prime Minister Morrison as an aid to his reelection chances; and to be on the winner's side when the architects of climate procrastination have their way in Glasgow in November.

It's short odds that the climate policymaking talkfest in Glasgow on 1-12 November will endorse a NZ2050 goal. Just as the Paris Agreement in 2015 was sold as a triumph, even though world was not going to get within coo-ee of its 1.5C goal with voluntary, unenforceable national emissions reduction commitments, so too will a Glasgow Agreement be sold as another success.   But as Joshi points out, the Murdoch push:

will be a centrist, pro-business approach to climate action. It will make a show of dismissing the “hysterics” of climate activists, while urging governments, including Australia’s, to set distant, meaningless and non-binding climate targets. It won’t allow any room for emissions reductions in line with the 1.5C goals or the Paris agreement; no short-term meaningful targets or actions such as those highlighted in the IEA’s recent ‘net zero’ report. It won’t argue for a coal phase-out by 2030, or the end of all new coal, gas and oil mines in Australia, or a ban on combustion engine sales by 2030-2035; all vital actions if Australia is to align with any net zero target.  It’ll champion controversial technologies like CCS and fossil hydrogen. It’ll highlight personal responsibility: tree planting, recycling and electric vehicle purchases. It will not propose or argue in favour of any new policies; at least none that might reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

The devil is in the detail, and anyone who exams the scenarios likely to gain favour in Glasgow — those promoted by the world's central banks — will find them deeply disturbing. In a recent report, we concluded that "Central bankers' “net zero 2050” scenarios fail on risk basics". Amongst the issues we noted were:

Sustainability. The scenarios assume that the world economy will continue to grow for another 30 years as it has in recent decades, such that global production doubles between 2020 and 2050. Given that most resource use has not been significantly decoupled from production, this implies that the human world will become even more destructive of the planet and its finite resources. If at present humans consume 1.7 planet’s worth of resources each year, how much more irreparable damage will be done by 2050, and how many more of Earth’s planetary boundaries will be exceeded? No scenarios focus on lower-growth alternatives.

Fuels versus food. The purpose of CDR should be to reduce the level of atmospheric CO2 back to a safe level. But if you continue to use a lot of fossil fuels, then CDR has to be diverted into being an “offset” for continuing emissions, and hence demand grows for “natural offsets” such as forestation and the land and water required. Another demand on land is BECCS: biofuels supply 20% of primary energy by 2050 in the NZ2050 scenario.  Carbon sequestration in the NZ2050 scenario is almost 8 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, including more than 3 billion tonnes from BECCS, even though current drawdown from BECCS is practically zero. BECCS uses crops grown for energy, and competes with land for food. This means that in the NZ2050 scenario, the amount of land available for crops decreases by 8% by 2050, even as GDP doubles and population grows by 20% in 30 years. Global demand for food would likely be around 50% higher than at present, with less cropland than now, which makes the land-use assumptions, in “Yes Minister” terms, “courageous”.

In a Briefing Note on NZ2050 published in August this year, we pointed to "Warnings signs as global oil and gas giants adopt “Net zero 2050” climate goal".:

Net zero pledges are everywhere. The goal of  “Net zero 2050” (NZ2050) greenhouse gas emissions is centre stage leading up to  Glasgow.  A majority of nations support the goal, as do many global corporations including fossil fuel producers such as Shell, BP and Exxon, investors and, in Australia, the major business lobby groups. 

 But NZ2050 is not just a goal, it also represents a strategy: it is a contested space about the energy mix, the pace of change and economic and social pathways to 2050.  A number of high profile NZ2050 scenarios have been produced, including by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and the central bankers’ and financial regulators Network for Greening the Financial System. Some of their scenarios have up to 50% of primary energy coming from fossil fuels by 2050! Others rely on technologies not yet deployed at scale, such as BECCS, for 20% of energy by 2050. The scenarios are a veritable show bag of technocratic dreaming, gas expansion and assumptions about economic growth unconcerned by material resource limits.

NZ2050 also lacks short-term ambition. Despite the growing enthusiasm for this seemingly positive development, a global stocktake of net zero plans finds 80% fail to meet a minimum set of robustness criteria and lack substance and short-term ambition, leading to greenwashing and marketing deception, says Ketan Joshi, writing for Renew Economy, and a catastrophic failure to form action that will provide meaningful protection. 

When advocates support NZ2050 they are tacitly supporting a dangerous agenda leading up to COP 26 in Glasgow that will codify an unsustainable pathway with continuing high fossil fuel use, dangerous “offset” trade-offs, and unacceptable risks of unstoppable climate warming.

So when the Murdoch News empire is in lock step with central bankers and the world's oil and gas giants in pushing for NZ2050, you know that this climate goal is not the answer, it's the problem.