Australia can’t be taken seriously on climate change, if Australia doesn’t take climate change seriously.

On Thursday – Earth Day – US President Joe Biden led an important moment in the early stages of his presidency and at a pivotal one in humanity’s transition to a low-carbon world.

And we saw how seriously he takes the issue of climate change – pledging the United States to a minimum 50% carbon emissions reduction on 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

On the other hand, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison once again failed to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The symbolic silence of Australia when it comes to making targets, is defeaning.

Unlike some of Australia’s key strategic allies, he also failed to enhance our reduction targets for this decade.

In a clear diplomatic rebuke, President Biden left the room before Morrison’s speech, not even bothering to listen to Australia defend its indefensible position on climate change.

While other countries – the United States, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, India, even Brazil – all made substantial announcements about how they would drive down carbon pollution in the coming years, Morrison's speech was a justification of business as usual.

The international community aren’t buying it, and nor will the Australian public.

ScoMo keeps dragging his feet

This week has seen a flurry of announcements from the Morrison government. But there are plenty of signs Australia is being dragged to the table like a reluctant teenager to visit insufferable relatives. 

Most of this week’s announcements can be viewed through the lens of the ill-advised ‘gas led’ recovery. None are serious measures to rapidly drive down carbon pollution in Australia this decade.

We heard that more than $275 million was pledged towards four hydrogen hubs in regional Australia, but there’s no guarantee this hydrogen will be produced using renewable energy instead of coal and gas. 

We have almost as much money going towards carbon capture and storage (CCS) – largely unproven and uncommercial technology that Victoria University found costs at least six times more than wind power with battery storage, which we know works effectively and on a large scale.

Morrison’s CCS commitment is more about a desperate attempt to keep coal and gas in Australia's energy system longer, delaying the transition to renewable energy. 

These aren’t the actions of a government that is truly serious on tackling climate change; they’re ‘smoke and mirrors’ measures designed to be seen to be doing anything to silence critics.

The ‘when’ is still important

The PM offered an insight into how he wants to frame global thinking on emissions reduction.

“I'm seeking to focus that conversation, it’s now about the how, there has been enough conversations about the when, it’s about the how, now,” Mr Morrison said this week.

Here’s the kicker. We’ve seen repeated failures by the federal government to embrace either the ‘how’ or the ‘when’.

This rhetoric won’t continue to fly, especially with whispers out of Washington that Australia’s current climate policy doesn’t pass the test.

The ‘when’ remains important. 

Repeated failures by leading economies – including Australia – now has the planet in a precarious position.

Climate Council research released last week puts those figures into sharp relief.

The science suggests we need to cut our climate pollution by more than two-thirds in the next decade and reach net zero emissions in the next fifteen years, yet we can’t even verbalise a commitment to net zero by 2050.

We already know the ‘how’: new technology won’t be enough

Let’s look at the ‘how’ Mr Morrison speaks of: How can we achieve significant, meaningful reductions in climate mitigation that don’t diminish work opportunities for Australians and keep our economy robust?

We know the gas-led recovery is fundamentally flawed – from a climate, jobs, tax revenue and economic perspective.

After all, even senior energy security leaders have decried this policy.

We know carbon storage solutions hinged to existing coal and gas energy production are less effective, and dramatically less affordable, than renewable energy coupled with battery storage.

We know new technology solutions aren’t the answer without strong and clear scene based emissions reductions targets for the whole economy.

We know the answer is big policy changes that embrace the economic, clean air and energy benefits of renewable energy production, take advantage of our industrial capability, skilled workforce, close proximity to energy hungry Asian markets and the best solar and wind resources on earth.

When the world was watching last night, Australia failed to come to the table.

When we don’t take the greatest existential crisis confronting our planet seriously, ‘how’ can we expect the rest of the world to treat us the same?


Header image: G20 Argentina

Gavan McFadzean

Climate Change and Clean Energy Program Manager, ACF