The view from Billinudgel

Morrison’s climate flip
Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via Facebook

He would rather forgo his parliamentary pension than admit it, but our prime minister is unobtrusively softening his hardline stance on climate change. Not to the point of bipartisan agreement in the national interest – that would be too big an ask – but there are signs that the decade-long pitched battle may de-escalate to a heavily armed truce.

The delay could well be disastrous. Australia has a lot of catching up to do, and the rest of the world has become tired of our intransigence.

Perhaps it’s a case of better late than never. Scott Morrison might come late to the party, but if he brings a serious contribution to the punchbowl, he may be allowed to wassail along with the others.

The trigger, of course, is Joe Biden. The incoming US president has made it clear that America will not only rejoin the Paris Agreement, but intends to lead it. This will be his first priority in office. Come February, Morrison’s isolation on climate policy will become even more stark.

Which is why he is changing tack. Last week there was a significant concession: Morrison signalled that the government was backing away from using carryover carbon credits to meet our 2030 emissions target – a strategy long deemed unacceptable by most of the major players. Although not yet abandoned, it is clearly on the way out.

Morrison continues to blather about meeting and beating our commitments “in a canter”, but how he proposes to square that circle is yet to be revealed. He is, however, becoming resigned to the fact that he will not be allowed to cheat. He must be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

But Morrison is still resisting the most important goal: net-zero emissions by 2050. In a sense, it hardly matters because it is effectively locked in already. All the premiers and chief ministers, the business community, the agriculture sector, even many of the miners have signed up, and the rest of the world has moved on to the next hurdle. Whether Morrison likes it or not, he will be dragged along in the backwash.

There will always be recalcitrants. The silliest among them – our so-called Energy Minister Angus Taylor – stubbornly continues to puff gas from every orifice in the fond belief that this is the answer. Ticking off the Narrabri gas fields approval is a bad idea on every front: environmental, economic and political. It will play briefly to the Coalition rump, but the majority within the government – even the Nationals – cannot maintain their obstinacy for much longer.

Finally, Morrison is sidling towards the inevitable flip and, if he has any hesitation, there is an even more impeccable source to fall back on. Last week Rupert Murdoch went out of his way to insist that not everyone in his empire is a climate denialist. Well, there may be a couple who aren’t, although we haven’t heard much from them in the past few years. But now it has become imperative for the mogul to start cosying up to the new regime in Washington.

Murdoch’s interests in his seldom-visited antipodean dominions are less urgent, but the Dark Lord has spoken, and his words will be heard across the ocean. And Morrison, as always, will be listening.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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