Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor says there is nothing that ‘terrifies’ him about the predicted impacts of climate change as he resists calls for Australia to follow major trading partners in committing to a net zero emissions target by 2050.
“I’m not terrified because I believe in Australia and I believe in people’s capacity to solve our problems and be enterprising. So I guess it’s not an emotion I feel,” Taylor told the Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit, less than a day after Pacific Island leaders had called for Australia to do more on climate change, because they were afraid of the existential risk it posed.
“Our challenge now is to address the issues to solve the problem. That’s what we’re going to focus on. I’m very conscious of the impacts that a changing climate can have and are happening frankly, but the job now for all of us is to actually get in and do something about it.”
The Morrison government is facing growing pressure to formally adopt a zero emissions target, with many of Australia’s largest trading partners, as well as all Australian state and territory governments, and a growing list businesses and investor groups already embracing the goal.
The summit had earlier heard from the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, who had stressed that the Pacific region did not have time to wait for regional leaders like Australia to adopt zero emissions targets, as many parts of the region were facing an existential risk.
“If there is any chance left to save ourselves from the climate crisis, we are going to have to act now,” Dame Meg Taylor told the summit on Thursday.
The federal energy minister, however, insisted that the Morrison government saw its priority was to address ‘how’ emissions reductions could be achieved, rather than the setting of a specific national target.
Angus Taylor said that the government was committed to the Paris Agreement goal, which he interpreted as a global transition to net zero emissions sometime in the second half of the century. However, a growing body of research shows that to meet a Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees requires those zero emission targets to be reached before 2050, with substantial cuts within the next ten years considered crucial.
“We are obviously committed to global net zero, that’s in the Paris Agreement, we absolutely share that that commitment. The [prime minister] has said many times we want to get there as soon as possible. I agree with that,” Taylor told the summit.
“But the challenge is how. The ‘how’ is the key though and we, in the technology investment roadmap, have been making the point that if we can get these core technologies, if we can get those down towards that parity point, that point where you can innovate at low cost, this is the pathway.”
Federal Labor spokesperson for energy and climate change, Mark Butler, told the summit that the Morrison government was not doing enough to reduce emissions, and that positive aspects of the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap were undermined by a lack of commitments to long-term emissions reduction targets.
“The federal government simply has to do better,” Butler said. “The step up by states over the last couple of years, the commitment by the private sector over the last couple of years, has been enormous. The Technology Roadmap that we saw in recent months from the government is worthy in some respects, but without targets and timeframes, it’s not going to be an effective strategy to reduce emissions.”
There has been a flurry of commitments to national zero net emissions targets, including those made by China, South Korea and Japan. The commitment made by Japan has been backed up by a plan to ban new fossil fuel car sales by 2035.
The United Kingdom, which will host the next round of international climate change negotiations, has also adopted a 2050 net zero emissions target, and has announced an interim goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030.
Speaking to the summit, Victorian state energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said that Victoria was still progressing its own plans to set interim emissions reduction targets for 2025 and 2030, despite delays.
The Victorian government has legislated requirements for the regular setting of interim emissions reduction targets, to provide a pathway to achieving zero net emissions by 2050. Legislation had required the Victorian government to set itself a deadline of setting the 2025 and 2030 targets by 31 March 2020, but had been delayed in doing so due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
D’Ambrosio provided assurance that the interim targets would be set ‘soon’, but that it was also important to consider the initiatives that are currently being rolled out by the Victorian government.
“It’s not far away. I won’t put a date on it, but I do want to make it really clear to people that our ambition is there, our ambition, and we will have interim targets for 2025, we will have interim targets for 2030,” D’Ambrosio said.
“But just have a look at the fact that we’re actually rolling out major investments right now, and the Solar Homes Program has come back with an absolute roar, in terms of the people wanting people wanting to take up solar PV.”