All of a sudden, the government has discovered “technology” – they just don’t know what to do with it.
No doubt, we will get another glossy brochure with no research to back it up, no comparative analyses of different approaches or relative cost/benefit, no risk analysis or management.
Because this government doesn’t really believe in it as shown by their track record.
Total R&D expenditure is at its lowest level since 2005-06 and business R&D expenditure is lower than at any time since 2002-03.
ABS figures show that Australia’s gross expenditure on research and development fell to 1.79% of GDP in 2017-18, down from 1.88% in 2015-16. This compares with an OECD average of 2.37% for developed nations. Business expenditure on R&D fell from one per cent of GDP to 0.9% over the two-year period, while the OECD average was 1.49%.
Government investment in R&D in 2011-12 was $10.072 billion. Despite our continually growing GDP, in 2018-19 it was $9.396 billion.
R&D tax incentives in 2011-12 were $1.07 billion. In 2019-20 they are estimated to be $280 million.
Aside from cutting funding and incentives, instead of letting the research and market decide where technology should go, this government has shown its penchant for picking winners, usually based on political rather than practical considerations.
And as per usual, this tactic comes directly from the Republican playbook.
In a New York Times opinion piece, Republican Sen. John Barrasso wrote:
“The nation is leading the way not because of punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes but because of innovation and advanced technology, especially in the energy sector,” he wrote. “Making energy as clean as we can, as fast as we can, without raising costs to consumers will be accomplished through investment, invention and innovation.”
Enter hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, which may sound like a good idea – or may sound more like a lifeline for the fossil fuel industry.
Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is the main driver behind the hydrogen push and he wants it produced using coal and gas combined with carbon capture and storage. Only 4% of the hydrogen produced globally is made using renewable energy.
A recently published study by the Center for International Environmental Law warned that some technologies, in particular carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies, could slow the transition to renewables.
“CCUS is valuable to the fossil fuel industry in three key ways: it expands oil production, provides a lifeline to a declining coal industry, and further entrenches the overall fossil fuel economy,” the report says. “Incentivizing CCUS through policy and relying on it in planning will likely slow the transition away from fossil fuel investments and undermine broader efforts to mitigate climate change.”
Touting technology and innovation is a tactic being used to sound like you are doing something on climate change while kicking action on reducing emissions down the road. None of the technologies are close to being developed at a scale large enough to have a true impact on global warming, a process that would have to be coordinated among many countries on a vast global scale. We don’t have time to wait.
But hey, at least the fossil fuel industry is happily on board.
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