Scott Morrison has promised rural Australia that he will ‘get the balance right’ when it comes to national action on climate change, in an opinion piece released this morning.
“Only the Liberals and the Nationals working together can be trusted to get this balance right,” Morrison wrote in his Tuesday essay, emphasising that his plan was fair and practical.
“We understand the threats faced but also the opportunities that can be realised.”
For weeks now there has been speculation over what zero emissions deal, if any, the Liberals could broker with its coalition government peers in the National Party ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November. Only eight days ago the prime minister confirmed that he would be personally attending the UN meeting in Scotland — up until Morrison’s travel plans were announced, many expected he would not show up.
On Monday the government said that a long term emissions reduction strategy for Australians would involve a permanent assessment review process or permanent safeguard mechanism. Last night the cabinet reached an agreement to undertake five-year reviews to assess the economic impact of a 2050 net-zero emissions target on regional and rural communities.
In his opinion piece, Morrison said that climate change action was one of the most challenging policy issues the Coalition party room had to grapple with in 20 years — in particular how those decisions might negatively affect regional Australia. He said the Australian Liberal National Party (LNP) did not reach an agreement on its climate action policy ‘lightly’ without thinking carefully about preventing ‘electricity bills to skyrocket, the lights to go off, for their jobs to be put at risk or for the way of life in rural and regional communities to be sacrificed’.
The pm also echoed views that the treasurer Josh Frydenberg has begun openly addressing this past month about the challenges Australia’s economy faces participating in the global market, and when most other developed nations are transitioning away from coal-fired power to keep the progress of global warming contained to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Decisions overseas are bringing about major changes in the global economy that will impact on Australia’s future prospects, both positively and negatively,” Morrison said.
“As prime minister I am determined to shield our nation from the negative impact of these changes while positioning us to take advantage of the many opportunities presented, especially for rural and regional Australia.”
International pressure on Australia to take more meaningful action on its net-zero emissions target and transition away from fossil fuels has been growing, and in April became especially pointed with US secretary of state Antony Blinkin saying that America would challenge the practices of countries ‘whose action, or inaction, is setting us back’.
“When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are,” Blinkin said.
We prioritize addressing the #ClimateCrisis both at home and as a key element of our foreign policy. Today @POTUS released a set of analyses that will serve as a base for our critical work on climate and security moving forward. https://t.co/TFdvRlwfjR https://t.co/Xx8l9hSl8O
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 21, 2021
Meanwhile, Morrison’s climate change plan for Australia has focused solely on developing clean hydrogen energy hubs with no targets or clear path to transitioning away from coal. In his opinion piece, the pm said that Australia now had a plan to achieve net zero by 2050 and that would involve investing in rural and regional Australia to ensure that they succeeded and were protected.
“At Glasgow I will confirm that Australia will continue to play our part […] We will do this the Australian way,” Morrison said, outlining that he favoured a policy that achieved climate change through ‘technology not taxes’ and one that did not enforce mandates on what people could buy.
“We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia. The Australian Way is all about how you do it, and not if you do it. It’s about getting it done.”
Nevertheless, the pm’s ardent admiration for pragmatism had him wary of using the word ‘target’, opting more often for the softer term ‘plan’ in his opinion piece. He quoted Bill Gates to argue that ‘forcing outcomes by 2030’ could result in diverting resources from technologies that would help reach 2050 objectives and said the government’s technology investment roadmap served to guard against this approach.
“We will keep making sensible commitments and doing our best to exceed them,” Morrison said.
“Key to this approach is investment in new energy technologies, like hydrogen and low cost solar, to ensure our manufacturing, resources, agricultural and transport sectors can secure their future, especially in rural and regional areas.”
The pm’s opinion piece then veered into defensive territory, where he said he wanted to remind the world that emissions in Australia have actually fallen by more than 20% on 2005 levels.
“That is more than New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States.
“We have beaten our 2020 emissions reduction target and are well on our way to meet and beat our 2030 target,” Morrison said.
A promise made at the last election — to change 2030 emissions targets — would be honoured, Morrison said, outlining that he would provide an update at Glasgow on what his government believed Australia could achieve within this nine-year timeframe.
“Performance is worth more than empty ambition. That’s the Australian way,” Morrison said.
“We want our heavy industries, like mining, to stay open, remain competitive and adapt, so they remain viable for as long as global demand allows.
“We will not support any mandate – domestic or international – to force closure of our resources or agricultural industries,” he said.