The Coalition’s newfound focus on a technology investment target in lieu of an emissions target to address climate change is “insulting” and an attempt to find a “silver bullet”, according to the Opposition.
Reports emerged earlier this week that the Australian government is planning to take a “technology investment target” to the UN Summit in Glasgow later this year in an attempt to avoid signing up to an agreement to pursue net zero emissions by 2050.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled the reports “very speculative,” but did reiterate his focus on “technology over taxes”.
“We’re going to have a sensible, balanced policy that acknowledges the need to take action on climate change and meet the targets we set,” Mr Morrison said.
“We’re going to get on with the job of ensuring there’s ample investment in renewables, as well as sustainable baseload power to support our heavy industries and our jobs in our regions,” he said.
“You need technology that can be accessed and put in place, not just here in Australia, but all around the world. Meetings won’t achieve that, technology does. And I can tell you taxes won’t achieve it either.”
The Coalition is expected to unveil a technology investment roadmap, with a focus on hydrogen, solar, batteries, transmission, large-scale energy storage and carbon capture.
While a tech investment target is welcome, better policies and a set emissions target is needed to actually attract that investment in new technologies, Investor Group on Climate Change chief executive Emma Herd said.
“Technology development and deployment is critical. But to attract investment the credibility test is whether technology planning is embedded in a long-term strategy consistent with a smooth transition to net-zero emissions by 2050,” Ms Herd told InnovationAus.
“Our members have over $2 trillion in assets under management and are crying out for investment opportunities in zero carbon opportunities and climate resilience measures in Australia,” she said.
“The lack of large-scale deals and policy instabilitty remain critical barriers to opening up multi-billion-dollar investment in new industries, jobs and technologies across our country.
“A clear and robust long-term strategy to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 would support economic growth, avoid unnecessary disruption, unlock investment opportunities and support a managed transition in communities impacted by shifting global and domestic markets.”
The plans for a tech investment target raised confusion and derision from many in the sector, with confusion over how it would replace a net zero emissions target.
“I’m confused,” Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes tweeted. “The best, cheapest way to get to net zero is technology investment. So we can have a target on the latter not the former? And $22bn in investment per year wouldn’t create more jobs?”
Industry Minister Karen Andrews slightly elaborated on the government’s plans on Tuesday, saying that it would be “looking at what the technologies will be that are going to support Australian businesses”.
“If you’re talking about a technology investment target, you’re actually looking at what the resources will be and what the amount of spending will be towards developing technology. If you’re talking about an emissions reduction target you’re talking about what will be the target set in terms of tonnages or percentages, reductions in emissions,” Ms Andrews said.
But shadow innovation minister Clare O’Neil said the government hasn’t supported the tech sector enough and the newfound focus to address climate change is disingenuous.
“The Morrison government, bereft of anything resembling a meaningful policy around tackling climate change, all of a sudden wants to pretend there’s a technological silver bullet to lower Australia’s emissions,” Ms O’Neil told InnovationAus.
Ms O’Neil pointed to falling investment in innovation and a decline in government spending on R&D, which dropped by 19 per cent in the three years from 2015-16 to 2017-18, along with planned cuts to the R&D tax incentive.
“For some time now, Labor has been calling on the Coalition to up their game and give innovation in Australia the attention and support it needs,” she said.
“After effectively ignoring the tech sector, Scott Morrison is now telling us technology is going to magically lower emissions because he says so. Frankly, it’s insulting,” she said.
“Even Malcolm Turnbull said recently that innovation was not Scott Morrison’s comfort zone, so the idea that Morrison suddenly understands technology and its potential is a bit hard to swallow.
“Technology absolutely has the potential to help us solve some of the big challenges we face in Australia, but if the government are sincere about wanting to harness that potential, they need a meaningful policy, not a new slogan and some spin.”