New research by public policy think tank the Australia Institute claims that the 116 gas and coal projects under development in Australia expose the nation’s recent pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 as "a fraud”.

The Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program found that the 44 new oil and gas projects and 72 new coal projects under development in Australia would result in nearly 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per annum, if all were sanctioned and built.

The Australia Institute said this would be the equivalent to adding around 5% to global energy emissions, or the equivalent of more than 200 new coal power stations and almost double the carbon footprint of global aviation.

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It claimed the developments would more than double Australia’s gas and coal production, while noting the Australian government was also still supporting development of several gas basins, including Beetaloo and Canning, through subsidies as part of the government’s “gas-fired recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Australia Institute said the carbon footprint of the proposed new gas projects would be 290 million tonnes of CO2e per annum, including 95 million tonnes of domestic emissions and 196 million tonnes of exported emissions.

The coal projects under development make up the majority of the emissions increase, accounting for an estimated 1.4 billion tpa of CO2e, including 52 million tonnes of domestic emissions and 1.3 billion tonnes of exported emissions.

However, it should be noted that not all of the projects in the development pipeline will proceed through to the final investment decision and construction.

The Australian government noted in its Resources and Major Projects Report late last year that a number of coal projects in the development pipeline had already been downgraded to 'unlikely' due to the downturn in both metallurgical and thermal coal prices.

Australia's net zero pledge

The latest findings come just a week after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged Australia would reach net zero emissions by 2050, but he stressed the plan did not involve shutting down coal or gas production.

Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program director at the Australia Institute, questioned the Australian government's ability to reach net zero emissions while also aggressively pursuing a huge expansion of coal and gas projects.

“This scorched earth policy has exposed Australia’s net zero 2050 plan as a fraud. Australia cannot claim to be acting on climate change while simultaneously expanding fossil fuel projects,” he said.

“The chilly global reception to Scott Morrison’s hollow net zero by 2050 plan shows that the world has caught on to the Australian Prime Minister’s announcements-over-action antics. It is time for world leaders to draw a line in the sand: Don’t let Australia cheat on climate change and wreck Glasgow COP26.”

Critics say Morrison is 'embarrassing Australia on the world stage'

The Australian government has drawn criticism for failing to improve its near-term 2030 emissions reduction target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels. However, Morrison stated during COP26 that Australia was on track to achieve a 35% reduction by 2030.

Australia was also a notable absentee among the more than 100 countries that have signed up to the US and EU-led Global Methane Pledge, which looks to slash global methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

The government has also come under fire for joining India, China and Russia in opposing setting a firm deadline to phase out coal at the G20 meeting held in Rome, Italy last week.

The Greens political party in Australia this week accused Morrison of “sabotaging global climate action” by refusing to sign up to the Global Methane Pledge or phase out coal.

Commenting on Morrison’s speech at COP26, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young claimed the prime minister had embarrassed Australia on the world stage.

“Scott Morrison’s leader’s speech was underwhelming and cringeworthy. It was as if he resented even being here. He snarled at the world and lectured that Australia is already doing enough - when of course that is a lie,” she said on Tuesday.

“Mr Morrison has joined up with China and Russia to block global action on coal pollution. This sends a damaging message here at the summit that rather than helping. Mr Morrsion wants to wreck climate action.”