Monday, November 9, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Biden win ups climate pressure
The Morrison government must now lift Australia’s targets

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison arriving at Parliament House for Question Time today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Parliament House for Question Time today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at the start of Question Time this afternoon, describing Biden as a friend of Australia, and voicing continued support for the bedrock ANZUS alliance, which will mark its 70th anniversary in 2021. The PM yesterday invited Biden to visit Australia for the September commemoration. The Biden–Harris victory, however, increases pressure on both the Morrison government and the Opposition to lift Australia’s ambition on climate change, and Albanese’s first question to the PM noted that more than 70 countries have committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, including Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and (soon) the US under the Democratic platform, which also sets a target of 100 per cent clean energy by 2035. Albanese asked: “Why is the prime minister leaving Australia behind by refusing to support net-zero by 2050?” Morrison welcomed the fact that the US would rejoin the Paris Agreement – noting that “Australia never left” – but then carried on repeating the Coalition’s dusty guff about our track record under the Kyoto Protocol. “Not only did we not leave,” he said, “we continued to meet and beat its commitments that we have had. Meeting and beating Kyoto 1. Meeting and beating Kyoto 2. And we will meet and beat 2030 as well.”

A quick recap: in 1997, Australia was one of the only rich carbon-exporting countries allowed to increase its emissions (by 8 per cent) compared with a 1990 baseline, under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto 1, which ran from 2008–12). We got there by restricting land clearing, which Coalition governments in NSW and Queensland subsequently unwound. Under Kyoto 2 (2013–20), Australia was set the very soft target of reducing emissions by 5 per cent by this year compared with a 2005 baseline (which equals 99.5 per cent of the 1990 baseline). This effectively means that our national emissions have not had to change much for 30 years. Emissions are well down per capita, of course, or per unit of economic growth, but as far as the climate is concerned Australia has done nothing – in fact, we’ve gotten rich off warming by massively expanding exports of coal and gas. Australia’s current 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement – minus 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels – will be largely achieved by virtue of the renewable energy targets of state and territory governments (such as the spectacular $32 billion plan for renewables plus storage today announced by NSW’s environment minister, Matt Kean) or, if that falls short, dodgy carbon accounting using carry-over credits. So, taking the long view, when federal Coalition MPs bang on about Australia meeting and beating climate targets, they are talking rubbish. 

Biden’s election means that, for Australia, the jig is up. There are no more get-out-of-jail-free cards. Carbon tariffs are on the horizon. Countries comprising 70 per cent of our trade now support net-zero emissions by 2050. Former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, appearing on the ABC’s Insiders yesterday, both urged the Morrison government to step up. Rudd pointed out that the Paris Agreement requires countries to increase their ambition every five years, and Australia is going to be asked to do so. Turnbull described Morrison’s gas-led recovery as “political piffle”.

Shadow minister for climate change and energy Mark Butler asked the PM today: “Why won’t the prime minister commit to net-zero by 2050 when it’s supported by every state and territory government, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council, the National Farmers’ Federation, AGL, BHP, Rio Tinto, Santos, Telstra, Origin, EnergyAustralia, the Property Council, the Aluminium Council and the Commonwealth Bank, among many others?” The Morrison government had no good answer to this question. 

Into the newly positive political environment comes Zali Steggall – the independent member for Warringah who unseated former PM Tony Abbott at the last election – who today introduced her own long-foreshadowed Climate Change Bill (previously profiled in The Monthly). It is a sensible, non-partisan solution designed to end the climate wars, and is modelled on the UK’s approach, legislating five-yearly carbon budgets to get Australia to net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s also supported by a wide range of stakeholders, both inside and outside parliament. Steggall has met with Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as well as the Opposition, backbenchers and crossbenchers, and is hoping Morrison will allow a free vote after the bill has been through a parliamentary inquiry. Net-zero emissions by 2050 requires steep cuts to emissions, Steggall told a webinar for the Australia Institute today. “We can’t wait till 2049,” she said. “The good news is, we know how to do it.” The time for heel-dragging is well and truly over. 

“Post-COVID-recession, we’re going to have a very different Australia, which has the chance to be more sustainable.”

Australia’s newly appointed chief scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, currently serving as chief scientist at CSIRO, says the government is looking to experts to lead Australia out of the pandemic.

“It has been strongly pointed out to the ABC that they run the risk of defamation.”

An unnamed source confirms that the federal government is furious about tonight’s Four Corners episode, “Inside the Canberra Bubble”, a #MeToo-style investigation that exposes inappropriate conduct by MPs and staffers.

How Australia will live with the virus
Australia has managed to effectively suppress COVID-19, but with more international arrivals experts predict that outbreaks will continue. Today, Amy Coopes on the measures that will keep Australia safe from here on.

The number of signatories to former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s petition calling for a royal commission into media diversity in Australia, which was tabled today by Labor MP Andrew Leigh. It is the nation’s largest ever e-petition.

“This act establishes a legislative scheme for Commonwealth engagement with arrangements between state or territory governments and foreign governments. The scheme will also cover entities that are associated with state or territory governments (such as local councils and Australian public universities) and foreign governments (such as municipal or provincial governments) … [to ensure that such arrangements] do not adversely affect Australia’s foreign relations and are not inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.”

From the explanatory memorandum to the government’s Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020, which aims to prevent arrangements such as Victoria’s “Belt and Road” deal.

The list

“Straight after the fires, both the NSW Forestry Corporation and VicForests went back into their coupes to salvage burnt or fallen trees … such post-fire logging is the most damaging, because hollows in damaged trees and logs provide critical habitat for animals trying to survive … The forestry agencies in both states appear to have badly misjudged the public mood, encountering staunch resistance from activists and residents determined to protect what was left – burnt and unburnt alike.”

“The damage to convention, the rule of law, honesty, integrity and decency that Trump has wreaked – and is still wreaking – will be harder to repair. His legacy is not completely baked in, but the fact that it has been endorsed by a large majority of Republicans, who will keep the numbers in the Senate, means that Trumpery will live on, at least through the next two years. And the man himself is not going anywhere – except to the courts.”

“The federal government is continuing to pour millions of dollars into local sports grants favouring Coalition electorates, despite an auditor-general’s rebuke earlier this year about political bias. The amount of funding for the sport program, which is within the Health portfolio, was not disclosed anywhere in this year’s budget papers. The Health Department has confirmed the allocation is $12.38 million for the community development grants sport program, already assigned and to be spent over the next seven months.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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