On climate, the Morrison government is stuck in denial
If you’re trying to solve a problem, the first thing you do is stop making it worse. But reducing greenhouse gas emissions was the one thing Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reluctant to talk about today, when asked about Australia’s response to the recommendations of the bushfire royal commission. With all states and territories targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, the PM was asked whether the federal government had come under pressure from the national cabinet over its reluctance to take practical action to reduce carbon emissions. Morrison responded with some of his signature waffle. “One of the key findings – conclusions – of the royal commission was that the locked-in impacts of climate change – already that are there – largely set an elevated risk for the next 20 years,” Morrison said. “And as a result, a key part of dealing with climate change in this country is dealing with the resilience to what is already there.” He went on to make the same point he made at the very beginning of the year – in the wake of the Black Summer, but before the pandemic – which is that resilience and adaptation have to be a key part of Australia’s response to global warming. Hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction, Morrison said repeatedly. This is a big red herring. There is no point trying to reduce the hazards from warming, while continuing to add fuel to the fire by opening up new coal and gas precincts and building more power plants that burn fossil fuels.
Morrison could not even mention the net-zero emissions by 2050 target, saying only that “our commitment is we would like to achieve the outcome you’ve indicated as soon as we can”. That leaves the federal Coalition looking increasingly isolated, both at home and abroad.
Announcing the government’s response to the bushfires royal commission, Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud this afternoon tried to turn the tables back onto Labor (which supports the 2050 target), saying that, under the Paris Agreement, Australia had committed to achieving net zero at some point in the second half of the century. “Obviously, the prime minister’s saying, if we can get there quicker, then we will,” Littleproud said. While the Paris Agreement commits Australia to reducing emissions by 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, Littleproud said, “The other mob can’t get to 2030. They don’t know how they are going to get to 2030. They don’t know who’s going to pay for it – they say they are going to get to 2050 and it is zero, by 2030 that’s around a 40–41 per cent reduction in emissions that you’re going to pay for.”
This is pure sophistry, especially coming from an emergency management minister who is announcing increased expenditure for responses to national disasters on the very same day that the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO confirm, in their biennial “State of the Climate” report, that Australia is already suffering increased bushfire severity and extreme weather events due to climate change. In other words, we are already paying the price of our inaction. And that price is escalating rapidly while Morrison, Littleproud and the rest of the Coalition try to make political mileage out of the (supposed but unquantified) extra costs associated with raising 2030 targets from 26 per cent to 41 per cent. Really, how much flogging can a dead horse take?
In fact, the Coalition is barely serious about climate resilience either. Morrison, as treasurer, previously defunded the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, and he is now playing catch-up by establishing a new body, Resilience Australia. Littleproud’s announcement baulked at the cost of establishing a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet, as recommended by the royal commission. Instead, the government will expand Emergency Management Australia, establish a new national disaster recovery agency, and introduce legislation allowing it to declare a national state of emergency. It is resilience on the cheap.
Bogged down in denial about the causes (and even the existence) of global warming, and its costs, the Coalition can get away with its merry inaction on climate change, partly because Labor continues to tear itself apart, courtesy of the indulgent antics of Joel Fitzgibbon, rather than hold the government to account.
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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.
If you’re trying to solve a problem, the first thing you do is stop making it worse. But reducing greenhouse gas emissions was the one thing Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reluctant to talk about today, when asked about Australia’s response to the recommendations of the bushfire royal commission. With all states and territories targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, the PM was asked whether the federal government had come under pressure from the national cabinet over its reluctance to take practical action to reduce carbon emissions. Morrison responded with some of his signature waffle. “One of the key findings – conclusions – of the royal commission was that the locked-in impacts of climate change – already that are there – largely set an elevated risk for the next 20 years,”...
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