First China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the European Union. Now the United States, and every state and territory in Australia.
Prime minister Scott Morrison finds himself effectively friendless in his opposition to stronger climate change policies, with the defeat of Donald Trump and almost daily developments from Australian states and territories highlighting how the federal government is increasingly isolated in its resistance to a commitment to zero net emissions by 2050.
Morrison faced a flurry of questions on Australia’s climate and energy policies during parliamentary Question Time on Monday, following confirmation of the election of Democrat candidate Joe Biden as president of the United States. Morrison refused to confirm whether his government would look to change its emissions reduction targets, and said that Australia’s climate policies would be based only on local considerations.
“When it comes to the matter of net zero by 2050, Australia would like to meet that as quickly as possible, as quickly as it’s able,” Morrison told Question Time on Monday.
“But until such time as we can be very clear with the Australian people about what the cost of that is, and how that plan can deliver on that commitment, it would be very deceptive on the Australian people and not honest with them to make such commitments without being able to spell that out to Australians. Australia’s policies will be set in Australia and nowhere else for Australia’s purposes and consistent with our national interest.”
Actually, it’s even more deceptive to suggest that there is no plan and it has not been costed. Any amount of analysis, including from the Australian Energy Market Operator, the CSIRO and many others show that reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is not only possible, it can probably be done earlier, and guarantee economic growth, jobs and lower costs.
President-elect Biden is set to radically re-orient the United States position in climate change, having described climate change as “number one issue facing humanity“, and has committed to having the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement, on his first day as president.
The United States will join 37 other countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union in adopting a zero net emissions target.
It also raises the question of how the Morrison government could justify opposing a zero emissions target, based on local considerations, given every Australian state and territory government has also committed to a zero emissions target, by 2050 or earlier.
Leading Australian business groups, including the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Investor Group on Climate Change, the National Farmers Federation, the Property Council of Australia, and the Australian Aluminium Council, have all also expressed support for a 2050 zero emissions target.
But the Morrison government has consistently refused to set such a target, or any emissions reduction target set beyond its weak 2030 commitment.
International climate law expert, professor Tim Stephens from the Sydney Law School, says the Morrison government would no longer be able to cite claimed inaction by big international emitters as an excuse for inaction by Australia.
“The Australian government has used inaction by the US, China and other nations as justification for setting weak carbon emissions targets at home. With the election of President Joe Biden, who has set out a bold plan to achieve carbon net neutrality by 2050, bringing the US in line with the UK, EU, Japan and many other nations, that argument no longer holds,” professor Stephens said.
“In light of this, Australia needs urgently to update its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement to follow suit and to provide clarity on mid-term targets consistent with a mid-century net zero goal.”
The Morrison government’s view was typified by former federal resources minister, and Queensland senator Matt Canavan, who sought to dismiss the significance of the US election result on Twitter.
“I see that because of the result of a US election, some think Australia should adopt net zero by 2050? Shouldn’t the Australian people get a say on what we do in Australia?” Canavan tweeted.
It’s a view that ignores both that the voters of Canavan’s home state of Queensland, who just nine days ago expressed their support for a zero emissions target by re-electing the Palaszczuk government to a third consecutive term in Queensland, and it belies the fact that the majority of Australia’s production of coal and gas is currently purchased by overseas buyers.
The Morrison government’s Coalition colleagues in New South Wales announced on Monday a new ambitious plan for up to 12 gigawatts of new clean energy projects, which is expected to deliver an estimated $32 billion in new private sector investment, thousands of jobs and lower electricity prices for New South Wales households.
Even NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro has been brought around on the benefits of ambitious investment in clean energy projects, noting that under the new NSW government strategy, farmers are expected to benefit from an estimated $1.5 billion in annual land access payments for the hosting of wind and solar projects.
The significance of the NSW government announcement was not lost on federal Labor climate change and energy spokesperson Mark Butler.
“Just as the Morrison Government finds itself stranded internationally on its weak commitment to climate action, the NSW Liberal Government has today exposed how isolated the Morrison government is on renewable energy,” Butler said. “The Liberal NSW Government has announced plans to support 12GW of new renewable energy generation, firmed by 2GW of storage like batteries and pumped hydro.”
“The Liberal National Government has had 22 energy policies in the last eight years, Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor remain committed to Tony Abbott’s anti-renewables ideology and all they have to show for it are higher electricity prices and higher emissions.”
And if that’s not enough, Morrison’s Liberal government colleagues have even more far reaching policy goals – net 100 per cent renewables in South Australia (and a hydrogen plan that will see that amount of renewables at least trebled), and a 200 per cent renewable energy target from Tasmania.
How hard can it be?
The reality, notes former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and the man that Morrison deposed, is the hard right faction of his own party, led by Canavan, and the Murdoch media.