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Politics Editorial

Morrison Government aspires to net zero — on climate action

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

What to do when you want to exude an image of not being a dinosaur in the world of climate politics but your own party members won’t cooperate?

This is the dilemma facing the Prime Minister this week as all eyes are on the climate summit in Glasgow — the one he is unlikely to be attending.

However, on this occasion, it may be hard to avoid a reputation for ignorance on climate, one which has already preceded COP26. And, given Morrison likes to lecture any other nation within earshot on how best to do things, it is likely the world press – if not Australia’s Coalition fan club media – will keep the pressure up.

While Morrison’s infamous “This is coal" speech has long been the subject of international ridicule, it remains the most accurate indication of where the PM’s loyalties lie — certainly above any sudden beat up claiming Morrison or his Government are taking climate change seriously. It is simply not possible to worship coal to the degree that you refuse to budge on winding back its production and still claim to be serious about climate policy. These two things are just not compatible.

Even if enough Australians, lulled into security by the ever compliant mainstream media, believe the Morrison Government’s sudden emission target claims, the rest of the world knows that the proof is in the pudding. And Australia’s climate change action pudding is enough to make a fossil fuel magnate salivate in anticipation of the next steadily regressive move on climate inaction. 

But let’s first consider Morrison’s most recent vacuous claims, where he recommitted to reach the Paris Agreement target of limiting average global warming to 1.5°C and even brought forward the original 2050 deadline to 2040.

Now, anyone who remembers the PM professing to have reached and exceeded our Kyoto targets, based solely on creative accounting, knows that these latest promises are as empty as Morrison’s inbox as he awaited an invitation to speak at the 2020 climate summit.

As former Prime Minister Rudd indicated, Morrison may also soon have to increase the Government's emissions reduction target to “about 50%” to avoid international isolation and the "real risk” that the European Union will impose "a carbon tariff on Australian exports".

The other three members of the "quad alliance" present to witness Morrison's latest pledge on emission targets, comprising the U.S., Japan and India, no doubt, considered the PM’s latest words with an element of cynicism. But even if they took Morrison at his word – as we are obviously expected to do – the following things would need to happen for his words to carry any meaning.

As this excellent Reneweconomy report by Michael Mazengarb indicates:

‘…To be clear, [this target] means no coal power by 2035 unless Australia can do a Hail Mary on carbon capture and storage.’

And:

[The] Australian Energy Market Operator says this scenario would also require more than three-quarters of Australian road transport to be all-electric by 2040.'

If we are to take another leap of faith and assume Morrison – now guilted into action by the three other nations still willing to speak to us – intends to follow these words with any action, he would first need the support of his own party. And, let’s be frank, if current developments are any indication, he’d be more likely to garner support from the fossil fuel lobby.

This week, the Coalition has all but imploded with Nationals Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce hyperventilating and blabbering on about the “dangers” of meeting any targets whatsoever.

Canavan, characteristically articulate, tweeted:

'I am deadset against net zero emissions.'

And Joyce rambling on Insiders about gas in the UK and bush accountants, and telling no one in particular:

"...You're going to get yourself in more strife than the early settlers."

Meanwhile, Nationals MP Bridget “Sports Rorts” McKenzie – no doubt emboldened by her return to the front bench – berated Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and MP Dave Sharma over their newfound support for “a carbon-neutral economy by 2050”.

At the same time, there have been crisis meetings to calm the nerves of assorted other Liberal MPs currently having seizures over the climate change about-face.

The climate of division within the Coalition doesn't stop there. There are also turncoat Liberals such as Darren Chester "taking a break" from the party room (whatever that means) because this latest improvement on the Government’s prior non-action is – of course – actually nowhere near enough.

Of course, this "break", whether just a temporary lover's tiff or a long-term result irrevocable break-up, has plunged the Morrison Government into minority.

Incredibly, this development has not dominated the news cycle.

And if all this isn't improbable enough, NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean says his state – the most coal-dependent in the country – is ready to end coal generation by 2030.

Of course, green lefty inner-city latte sippers – otherwise known as concerned Australians – continue to hope that pressure from those Liberal MPs whose personal investment portfolios encompass things other than fossil fuels will have an effect, leading to real policy change enabling us to transition out of a fossil fuel economy.

It's almost enough to garner sympathy for the PM who, in recent weeks, has managed to insult or antagonise many of our trading partners by dumping Australia's submarine contract with the French, standing alone on the international stage on coal production and, now, managing to upset both the hard-right and the moderate sides of his own party.

Whether Morrison succeeds in splitting the Coalition by making good on his climate promises, resulting in more Liberal MPs "taking a break" and sending his own party into oblivion, or manages to pull the party together by reneging on his climate promises and alienating us on the world stage in time to be voted out, remains to be seen. 

This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published in the IA's weekly newsletter. Subscribe now to read the full version online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9Also, follow IA on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE, and in the new IA subscriber-only Facebook page HERE.

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