Australia

New Zealand is urging Australia to join its push to scrap fossil fuel subsidies

In the New Zealand capital, the West Wind farm offers not only a picturesque tourist destination but also an example of the city’s thriving renewable energy sector.

The Wellington farm’s 62 turbines produce enough energy to power 73,000 average New Zealand homes.

“It’s definitely the future,” Guy Waipara, Meridian Energy’s general manager of development, told SBS News.

“These things are developing and developing and getting bigger and more efficient.” 

The West Wind farm in Wellington

Pablo Vinales, SBS News

The West Wind farm is one of five Meridian Energy operates in the country and there are more on the horizon.

“There’s a lot more wind to come in this country. And I think globally, when there’s a huge future… and if your alternative is to burn coal, the trade-off to me is obvious,” Mr Waipara said.

Guy Waipara, general manager of development at Meridian Energy.

Guy Waipara, general manager of development at Meridian Energy.

Pablo Vinales, SBS News

It is a trade-off nations around the world are being forced to confront – and one New Zealand is looking to place front and centre at a major Pacific forum later this year.

New Zealand will host this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November and is using its position to call on regional partners, including Australia, to place a pause on fossil fuel subsidies – taxpayer dollars being spent on the production and consumption of oil, gas and coal.

It’s not guaranteed the proposal will make the agenda just yet however, with countries in the trade group currently considering it ahead of the November summit. 

Earlier this week, APEC trade ministers met virtually and agreed to “explore options” to undertake a potential “voluntary standstill on inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.

“We have taken action on trade and climate change. There is also a shared focus on reforming fossil fuel subsidies which are contributing to climate crisis,” New Zealand’s Trade Minister Damien O’Connor told the meeting.

APEC trade ministers, including Australia's Dan Tehan (top left), met virtually in the past week

APEC trade ministers, including Australia’s Dan Tehan (top left), have met virtually in the past week

APEC

Christian Downie, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow at the Australian National University, said New Zealand’s push for a pause on fossil fuel subsidies shows the global tide is shifting.

“We’re seeing global momentum now to act on climate change and New Zealand obviously pushing this issue to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” Dr Downie said.

“Global momentum on climate change broadly is increasing and I think there’s every reason now to be hopeful that we are at that tipping point.”

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said she is cognisant getting the subsidy on the agenda is not a given.

“I don’t know whether there’s the political will, but I do know that APEC is exactly the right forum to have these types of conversations,” Ms Mahuta said.

‘Australia increasingly isolated’

It’s been estimated since 2009 fossil fuel subsidisation has increased globally by more than $400 billion (USD) a year, with an International Monetary Fund paper saying in 2019 that Australia was spending $29 billion (USD) annually to support fossil fuel and energy production.

“At the G20 agreement back a decade ago, Australia, along with a whole range of countries – including China, and the US – agreed to phase out what was known as inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” Dr Downie said.

“But Australia’s position has been that our subsidies to burning oil, gas and coal and not inefficient.”

The federal government disputes it has a fossil fuels subsidy, saying Australia’s industry is efficient and its support for it is therefore in line with the G20 agreement.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt said he “absolutely rejects claims” suggesting otherwise.

Resource Minister Keith Pitt during a visit to Northern Oil Refinery in Gladstone, Queensland

Resource Minister Keith Pitt during a visit to the Northern Oil Refinery in Gladstone, Queensland

AAP

“We have a very strong resources sector and we intend for it to remain strong into the future,” he told SBS News.

“Those hard-working men and women in their high-vis gear are the ones who have helped dragged our country through in terms of the strong economy in the COVID period, and post-COVID we will continue to support them.”

Compared to high fossil fuel-consuming countries such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, Australia’s subsidies are small – though experts say Australia is still in danger of being isolated on the world stage.

“Whichever way you look at it, huge amounts of Australian taxpayer dollars are going to support activities that we know are warming the planet,” Dr Downie said.

“Australia is increasingly isolated on climate change and we’re being lumped now with countries like Brazil, like Russia, like Saudi Arabia that traditionally have done almost nothing on climate change.”

Australia has been criticised for its action on climate change in recent years.

Last month it was announced more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money would go towards building a gas-fired power station in NSW during the same week a landmark global report called for an end to investments in fossil fuels.

Australia remains committed to reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, despite the United States and other countries hiking their targets at a recent global climate summit

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the summit future generations will “thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver”.

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