The tried and true Coalition climate scare tactic – that ambitious emissions reduction policies will put a “wrecking ball” through the Australian economy – has been redeployed with gusto this week, as pressure builds on the Morrison government to get with the global program.
It started with a puffed-up tweet from Matt “Mr Coal” Canavan on the weekend, and was swiftly followed by warnings of “political suicide” from the back-benches, via the Coalition’s climate denier-in-chief Craig Kelly.
The PM, Scott Morrison, was next, telling Parliament during question time on Monday that “Australia’s policies will be set in Australia and nowhere else for Australia’s purposes and consistent with our national interest.”
And on Tuesday, Australia’s minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor did his own bit to firmly distance the Morrison government from the targeted climate policies of US President elect, Joe Biden, telling the Murdoch papers that the Coalition would not “slash” the economy by committing to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Biden – who on the weekend described climate change as the “number one issue facing humanity” – went into the US election with a $US2 trillion plan that promised to hit targets of zero carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions, nationally, by 2050. He has also promised to rejoin America to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it. https://t.co/L8UJimS6v2
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 5, 2020
In an interview with The Australian published on Tuesday, Taylor welcomed America’s return to the Paris treaty as “good news,” but said that Australia’s economy had a “different structure” and that aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050 here would require an “aggressive” short-term target.
“We are not going to slash our economy. We are not going to slash key sectors. We are going to continue to support agriculture, resources, mining and manufacturing. These are important sectors to the Australian economy and will continue to be,” Taylor told The Australian.
The message is clear, delivered by the PM himself during question time: “it would be very deceptive on the Australian people” to set a firm target “until such time as we can be very clear … about what the cost of that is and how that plan can deliver on that commitment.”
And as Craig Kelly quite correctly pointed out, any move by the federal government to adopt the 2050 emissions target would require an actual plan, and actual policies to back up that plan, not to mention political courage of conviction. And who can be bothered with that sort of “argy bargy”?
Well, as University of Sydney professor Tim Stephens pointed out to a belligerent Canavan on Twitter on Sunday, pretty much every other government in Australia – including most recently and notably the Coalition in New South Wales, with its stunning plan for 12GW of new renewable energy and another 2GW of storage.
“Queenslanders just endorsed net zero by 2050. And all other Australian states and territories have also adopted the target,” Stephens said. “Australians have spoken, it’s just you and your climate sceptic colleagues don’t want to listen.”
Well for a start you Queenslanders just endorsed net zero by 2050. And all other Australian states and territories have also adopted the target. Australians have spoken, it’s just you and your climate sceptic colleagues don’t want to listen. https://t.co/iVw0Iyu9BL
— Tim Stephens (@ProfTimStephens) November 8, 2020
Even those in federal Labor who have been pushing for the ALP to dial down its climate ambition and get hip with gas in the lead-up to the next national poll appear to be taking the hint, with frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon quitting the Shadow Cabinet on Tuesday morning.
Still, the digging-in of the Coalition’s carbon cabal is really no surprise. More worrying is the fact that the strong climate sceptic undertow that runs through Australia’s federal government continues to drag others who should know better into the rip.
The Australian on Tuesday also quoted incoming Chief Scientist, Cathy Foley, who takes over the national role from Alan Finkel next month, as saying changing energy technology takes “decadal plans.”
“As (current Chief Scientist Alan) Finkel has said, the role of gas is to aid the transition and give room to bringing more renewable technologies on. You are going to find coal will have a role to play for some time as it takes a long time to switch. Carbon capture is a part of the technological advance, though it is not as pure,” Foley said.
According to The Australian – although this was paraphrased and not directly quoted – Dr Foley also told the paper it was important that renewable technologies could pay their own way and show how they would benefit people’s bottom lines, which sounds disappointingly on-message with the Morrison government.
Foley is right on a couple of points: it does take long-term planning to work out how to to reduce coal, gas and oil usage, and there are, indeed, just under three decades until 2050.
But the science is also clear: the world must reach net-zero emissions within 30 years to avert the worst climate change. And to achieve that there is no time to lose. As Ketan Joshi recently put it, “Playing around the edges in an effort to fake climate commitments is more than immoral now. It’s embarrassing.”