Prime minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged that there is a substantial shift underway in the geopolitics of climate change, but don’t expect this to translate into any meaningful response on the part of the Morrison government any time soon.
In a speech to the AFR Business Summit, Morrison said that he now acknowledges that global politics has shifted and that there are new expectations on countries to lift their ambition on climate change.
“The world’s response to climate change is simultaneously reshaping the global economy, global politics and the global energy system,” Morrison said.
“We are preparing. Australia is preparing. The Australian government is preparing for this new geopolitics of energy and climate change. It’s gone into another gear. We must address the threats and we must realise the opportunities for Australia.”
But, it is not entirely clear what the Morrison government is “preparing” for. Is the government preparing to ramp up its ambition on climate change and readying to adopt stronger climate policies? Or is it simply readying for the diplomatic fight, to push back against the growing pressure to do more?
The Morrison government already burnt through substantial diplomatic capital at previous climate change negotiations, particularly in 2019 at talks held in Madrid, where Australian negotiators helped push the talks massively overtime as they worked to shield the Morrison government’s plans to use surplus Kyoto Protocol credits to meet its 2030 emissions targets, as other countries worked to block the plan.
Despite the acknowledgement of a changing geopolitical environment around climate change, which has seen almost all of Australia’s major trading partners commit to stronger long-term emissions targets, Morrison offered nothing new on the part of Australia.
During his speech, Morrison simply reiterated the government’s existing position on climate and energy policy, including doubling down on the government’s proposed ‘gas led recovery’.
“We are committed to doing so in a way that preserves the jobs and livelihoods of communities right across the country, especially in regional Australia, while ensuring Australia is part of the new energy economy. We want both and we can get both. And by backing technology to drive that change, not taxes,” Morrison told the summit.
“Our gas fired recovery plan… ensures that Australia’s record investments in solar and wind have the firming support needed to drive reliability of energy supply, while also critically supporting the feedstock needs of our manufacturing industries to advise to drive our advanced manufacturing strategy.”
Morrison noted that there are substantial opportunities being created in the clean energy industry, including ambitious plans to position Australia as a leading producer of hydrogen. The federal government recently unveiled the first phase of its $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy, which will focus on growing Australia’s ‘green resources’ industries.
“Renewable energy, hydrogen production, critical minerals – they’re all part of our agenda and likely to generate significant investment and jobs for regional and remote Australia. A good example is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in the Pilbara, supporting 3,000 jobs when fully operational – and some 20,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction phase,” Morrison added.
However, Morrison’s response to the evolved international discourse on climate targets and the need to accelerate action appears to be its usual one – to do no more than the federal government has already committed to.
Major trading partners, including Japan, South Korea, the European Union, and the United States have all adopted targets to reach zero net emissions by 2050. China has also committed to reaching the same target by 2060.
These countries encompass Australia’s largest customers of its fossil fuel exports, including both gas and coal, and so their commitment to zero net emissions effectively place an end date on Australia’s fossil fuel export industries.
The Morrison government has refused to commit Australia to a similar timeline, only offering that Australia should achieve zero net emissions sometime in the second half of the century, and has been steadfast in refusing to set stronger interim emissions reduction targets.
“Affordable and reliable energy will continue to be an important focus of my Government as we transition to a low emissions economy and we move towards net zero as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050,” Morrison told the AFR summit.
Australia is already facing mounting pressure to commit to stronger emissions reduction targets – pressure that is only set to ramp up in the lead up to the next round of international climate talks to be held in Glasgow at the end of the year.
The UK’s High Commissioner to Australia, Victoria Treadell, told a film screening hosted by the UK High Commission in Sydney last week that the UK government was actively engaged with the Australian government on its climate policies,
Treadell said that the British government, which will host the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, was continuing to make the “economic case” to the Australian government to ramp up its climate action ambition, but noted that it was a decision that needed to be made by the Morrison government.