Federal Nationals MPs are showing growing signs of open rebellion against the attempts of the Morrison government to secure a zero emissions target, openly attacking the renewables industry while making ambit demands for hundreds of billions of taxpayer funds to underwrite new mining projects
On Tuesday, Queensland LNP MP Matt Canavan took a bizarre swipe at the renewables industry, which he called “snake oil salesman”, lamenting the industry’s successes.
“You can hardly blame these renewable energy snake oil salesmen because they’ve been successful so far, this is their business model,” Canavan told Sky News.
“Most other businesses, before the renewables age, would develop a better product, market the advantages of that product and have consumers come and buy them.”
A global surge in renewables investment has been driven by falling technology costs, with new build wind and solar projects cheaper than even existing coal and gas generators.
Adding to the accelerating pace of the global shift towards renewable energy technologies is the ability of renewables to deliver energy without greenhouse gas emissions and to drive new investment in regional communities.
The advantages of renewables over fossil fuels appear pretty clear, at least to the NSW Nationals, which has openly supported that state’s Coalition government’s decision to ramp up its emission reduction target to minus 50 per cent by 2030, and to attract more than $30 billion in new regional investment.
But they are not clear to Canavan, nor his successor as federal resources minister, Keith Pitt, who are behind a call for a $250 billion loan facility to be established to serve as a ‘lender of last resort’ for mining projects.
The fund is understood to be part of negotiations between the Liberals and members of the Nationals around a commitment to a net zero target for 2050. Such a fund would overwhelmingly benefit fossil fuel projects, as other parts of the resources sector – including producers of iron, lithium, nickel and copper – are not having the same challenges finding investors.
Nationals members, including Pitt, Canavan, and George Christensen have been pushing for significant concessions to be provided to the resources sector in a scenario where Australia commits to a formal decarbonisation target.
Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, told ABC’s RN Breakfast program on Thursday that he was ‘sympathetic’ to the idea of a loan mechanism for mining projects.
“I have sympathy for what they say because I don’t like the idea that the sovereignty of our nation is determined by a financing arm of another country or a board member. Who is really just the administrators of other people’s money, not the owner of it,” Joyce told the ABC.
Joyce said he did not want to see banks refusing to provide finance to mining projects – as some banks have done regarding coal and gas projects due to fears that the projects could be exposed to significant risks of becoming stranded assets.
Banks have largely backed out of financing new fossil fuel projects in recognition of the serious financial risks that new coal and gas projects pose, but have also acknowledged the significant reputational risks that they create with a growing focus of both shareholders and customers on corporate climate commitments.
Joyce effectively confirmed that the coalition party room had yet to see the long-term plan being developed by federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor, suggesting that party leaders were currently developing a strategy for managing consultation with backbenchers once a climate plan is finalised.
Asked about the prospect of a dedicated $250 billion loan facility for mining projects, prime minister Scott Morrison told a press conference on Thursday that a decision had yet to be reached on either the loan or Australia’s commitment to a zero emissions target.
“We’ll work through this issue with the government, and we’ll set the government’s position, and we’ll advise that before we go to COP26. That’s the appropriate way to run a country,” Morrison said.
The COP26 talks are now just over three weeks away, and Morrison is rapidly running out of time to secure and announce the commitments that Australia will take to the next round of international climate talks.
General consensus amongst local and international watchers of the climate negotiations is that Australia will be expected to join international peers in making a commitment to a target of zero net emissions by 2050 at the latest, and a failure to deliver on such a commitment would undermine Australia’s credibility at the international talks.
It is expected that a number of major heads of state will attend the meeting, but Morrison himself appears increasingly unlikely to go unless a significant new commitment can be secured within the coalition.
Certainly, a commitment to provide as much as $250 billion in financial guarantees for new coal and gas projects – at a time when there are growing calls to end the public financing of fossil fuel projects – would see Australia effectively embrace the status of a pariah at the Glasgow talks.
Meanwhile, major financial backer of the coalition, Gina Rinehart, has delivered a bizarre rant to school students that has questioned the science of global warming, and called climate science “propaganda”.