Morrison on track to fail us at COP26

September 28, 2021
Wangan and Jagalingou senior cultural custodian Adrian Burragubba speaks out on August 30. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its “code red” report, warning against new oil, coal or gas exploration or infrastructure projects, Western Australia’s (WA) government approved part of Woodside’s giant Scarborough gas project.

The IPCC report, released on August 6, found that the Earth is heating quicker than expected and may be only 10 years away from heating up by more than 1.5° Celsius.

Woodside’s proposed $16 billion offshore Scarborough liquefied natural gas (LNG) project will start producing between 2023 and 2025. It will include offshore facilities connected by a 430-kilometre pipeline to the existing Pluto LNG onshore facility, which will also be expanded.

A joint report by the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) and The Australia Institute (TAI) concluded that the Scarborough gas project will produce annual carbon pollution equal to more than 15 new coal-fired power stations.

The annual emissions from the facility will increase from 1.9 million tonnes to 4.4 million tonnes per year — a 132% increase on current emissions.

Appeals have been sought at varying stages of the project’s development. They include a challenge to the WA Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2019 approvals without prior assessment of the carbon pollution or other environmental impacts, such as damage to the Murujuga cultural landscape and rock art being proposed for World Heritage Listing.

Mark Ogge, principal advisor at TAI said: “Not only does Scarborough fly in the face of global efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C, but the project risks destroying globally significant Murujuga Aboriginal rock art in what can only be described as repeating Juukan Gorge in slow motion”.

The CCWA described Woodside’s project as an “international outrage”, saying it will accelerate climate change, damage the richest area of marine biodiversity in the state and harm unique cultural heritage. Director Piers Verstegen said: “The Scarborough development will double the amount of carbon pollution from the Pluto LNG project on the Burrup Peninsula and that will put any targets out of reach.”


Woodside claims to have emission reduction targets of 30% by 2030, aiming to be net zero by 2050. It claims this is consistent with the Paris Agreement.

This is not true. CCWA and TAI said, to be consistent with Paris’ goals, a 74% reduction in emissions by 2030 target is required, with net zero by 2035.

While Woodside operates the projects, it shares ownership with other mining companies. Woodside’s targets only apply to its own percentage. The “absolute” emissions will increase 66% by 2050.

Woodside has developed a methodology that allows it to fudge the numbers. In reality, the project will result in a growth of emissions.

Woodside is relying on offsets, such as tree planting, to meet its targets. But the CCWA/TAI report states that these carbon farming offsets are at risk from fire, extreme weather events and climate change.

These projections only apply to “direct” carbon pollution, produced during resource extraction and processing on site. Its projections do not account for “indirect” carbon pollution, released when customers burn the gas or coal.

The corporations know they are misrepresenting and cherry picking the data to spin the project, and major political parties and state bodies are happy to turn a blind eye.

WA Labor has committed to net zero targets by 2050 and the Liberal Party states it will beat its Paris commitment to reduce emission by 26–28% below the 2005 levels by 2030. Ignoring for a moment that these targets are not good enough, are they even true?

The WA government said it is considering making into law its commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, Premier Mark McGowan has not committed to stopping any new oil, coal or gas exploration or infrastructure.

On track?

The federal government boasts Australia is “on track” to meet and beat its 2030 Paris target. The data suggests emissions will be cut by 22.3% from 2005 levels, but this is not because of “strong and practical action by the Morrison Government”.

According to the government’s quarterly update, in the year to March, greenhouse gas emissions per capita and the emissions intensity of the economy were their lowest in 31 years. But, according to Adam Morton in the August 31 Guardian, in trend terms emissions had increased slightly from the December to March quarter.

The targets include “land use” emissions, which the Coalition governments of John Howard and Tony Abbott fought hard to include in the Kyoto and Paris targets. This is because they approved an exceptional amount of land clearing over that time. If “land use” is removed, the carbon emission cut by 2030 drops to 7.9% below 2005 levels, rather than 26–28%.

Australia may appear to be reducing emissions by clearing less forest, but the climate catastrophe will not be averted by cutting down fewer trees. As the Climate Council said, setting a net zero emissions target for 2050 is “not only too late, it is also meaningless without a plan” or concrete steps to cut emissions this decade.

The United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan committed in June to halving carbon emissions this decade.

Weak targets

Morrison is still clinging to a weak emission reduction target of 26–28%, set six years ago. At the current rate, Australia will not reach net zero climate pollution until 2170, which could also explain why Morrison is so reluctant to commit to attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 on November 1–12.

As Dr Malte Meinshausen, an author of the IPCC report and senior researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said, Australia is not doing nearly enough. “[Australia has] neither ... upped their targets for 2030 nor have they put a net zero target onto the table. They are not invited to many of the talks where international climate diplomacy is now going on because they are seen — and rightly so — as a laggard.”

IPCC chair Mark Howden said changes need to be implemented quickly. “We really need to be heading towards 45 per cent reduction by 2030 and keeping that going post 2030.

“At the moment, those emission reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to keep temperatures down to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C," he said.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the solution is clear: “There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040.

“Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy,” he added.

Australia is a major fossil fuel exporter, but which country will buy gas and coal when the world moves to cheaper and cleaner renewable energy?

The government is setting us up for failure, on every level.

[This article is based on one by Jessie de Waal at her Little Bird. Big Pond blog.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.