Australia net zero: Scott Morrison’s plan dismays climate technology experts

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“It’s pretty unanimous in the [climate tech] scene that you need policy to provide the tailwinds for technology to take seed,” he said.

Beyond Zero Emissions chair Eyton Lenko

“What we most need is policy”: Beyond Zero Emissions chairman Eyton Lenko. 

“Obviously technology has a role to play, but what we most need is policy that focuses on deployment, so scale goes up and price goes down.”

An example of this was the solar engineering company 5B, which already had products that could be used to quickly deploy solar farms on a huge scale, but needed government policy around the orderly shutdown of coal-fired power plants before the benefit of that technology could be fully realised.

“If we had that policy, plus the technology, it would mean we could roll out technology that already exists a lot faster, and reduce emissions faster, and get investors a better return,” he said.

“In the world of energy, it really is policy that holds us back, not the technology,” he said.

Tom Kline, head of climate tech at the early stage investment group Investible, said his job of finding investors for Investible’s recently launched $100 million Climate Tech Fund would be easier if there were clear government policy around the transition away from fossil fuels.

“Technology absolutely is key to [minimising climate change], but technology can be accelerated by policies and by support, and then the question is: where will this occur?” he said.

“Obviously Australia has a great track record of coming up with world-leading technologies, and we want Australia to be a leader in climate tech, but for that to happen we really need Australia to be an attractive destination for investors.

“Having policies that are credible, clear and stable does allow more investment into this space. Prior to us even having a commitment to net zero, [finding overseas investors] was problematic, so in that sense we’ve at least taken a step in the right direction.”

Simon Holmes à Court, a private investor in climate technology and a researcher at Melbourne University’s Energy Transition Hub, wasn’t quite so generous about the government’s technology-driven policy paper, which is widely known as “the pamphlet”.

“It’s utter bullshit. Ninety per cent of climate action is phasing out fossil fuels. That’s it,” he said.

Simon Holmes à Court

Simon Holmes à Court says we need to iterate existing technology, not wait for some unknowable new technology to come along. Kristoffer Paulsen

Even in cases where a technology solution was yet to be found, he said the response from the government needed to be in the form of policy to drive down carbon emissions and encourage businesses to deploy existing technology on a large scale.

He said this didn’t involve waiting for something to be invented, but required deployment of as much wind and solar power as possible, electrified transport, and reductions in the use of coal and gas.

“Yes, we need to figure out how to make cattle burp less methane, how to make carbon-neutral cement and carbon-neutral steel, but we don’t actually need to figure out any new technologies there,” he said.

“We just need to refine the existing technology. And the way to refine technology is to deploy, deploy, deploy.

“It’s a process of iteration. Iteration means deployment, and there’s nothing in this pamphlet about deployment. It doesn’t say anything about how we’re going to deploy the technology.

“The entire framing of technology versus tax, of the government’s technology investment road map, of this pamphlet, is a colossal piece of obfuscation saying ‘We’re not going to do anything until some unknowable thing has been invented’.”

Given up waiting for Canberra

However, the founders of some of Australia’s leading climate tech companies say they have given up waiting for policies that would help drive their businesses.

Dan Adams, the co-CEO of the smart-energy company Amber, which retails electricity at spot market rates to let customers take advantage of cheaper renewable energy prices, said he remembers organising a campaign in 2009, on the eve of the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, calling for “credible climate policies”.

“Six prime ministers later, and we are still in the same place. I spent years banging my head against a brick wall and finally decided that we need to take this into our own hands and build the technology and business model ourselves to shift Australia to 100 per cent renewable energy,” he said.

Guy Hudson, CEO and co-founder of Loam Bio, which has raised $40 million from investors such as Mike Cannon-Brookes and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff to fund the rapid deployment of its organic carbon capture technology, agreed that business had been forced to go it alone because politicians were moving much too slowly.

“While negotiations about global emissions targets continue and world leaders work towards an agreement, many of us have stopped waiting for a decision,” he said.

“The world will address climate change and decarbonise our economies through a range of technological and scientific solutions working together. We would like more certainty from political leaders, but our sector is banding together and acting with or without it.”

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