On Saturday morning, many of us woke to the news that Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker of the House, had praised prime minister Scott Morrison for his reactive approach to climate change in Australia. It's a headline that left some of us back home rattled; given that presently, Australia is not only the world's biggest exporter of coal, but is also the third-largest exporter of fossil fuel overall.
By Pelosi's standards, all it takes to be considered as a leader in climate action is a catchy slogan; echoing Morrison’s rhetoric about the importance of countries “meeting and beating” their climate targets. The pair met at Washington last week, and following their meeting, which mentioned climate change; Pelosi confidently told press that Morrison was "leading the way".
“So they’re leading the way and that’s what we all have to do...”
Aside from her statement being factually incorrect (more on this later), the public appraisal came as a shock; particularly off the back of the Biden administration's call for more ambitious climate action from Australia earlier this year, where our net-zero emissions target of 2050 was described as "insufficient". A timeline that is roughly 20 or so years behind the rest of the world.
“It’s insufficient to follow the existing trajectory and hope that they will be on a course to deep decarbonisation and getting to net zero emissions by mid-century," said the president back in April.
As we head into the next election early next year; this type of endorsement will likely help put Morrison in a favourable position without him having to make much or any further change.
Morrison is yet to set a concrete date for reaching net-zero carbon emissions
Although the Morrison government has mentioned an intention to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the prime minister has failed to provide a concrete date as to when this target will be reached. Instead, remarking that he hopes for it to happen "as soon as possible".
With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in early November; there is an expectation that the government will release an updated climate policy by mid-October, but it is looking likely that the 2050 target will remain. This was all but seemingly cemented when treasurer Josh Frydenberg backed the timeline last Friday (24/09), stating;
"Markets are moving as governments, regulators, central banks and investors are preparing for a lower emissions future."
“Australia has a lot at stake. We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world.”
What's our plan for reaching our target?
So, how exactly does the government plan on reaching its redundant target? It's definitely not by shutting down coal mines. In fact, the prime minister told SBS in an interview that aired on Saturday night that, "we don't have to, because that change will take place over time." An interesting perspective given that according to Geoscience Australia, around 40% of our energy consumption comes from coal.
Instead, the government's plan is to introduce new technologies that they hope will combat the impact of the coal industry; including the electrification of transport, the manufacture, use and exporting of green hydrogen, and ongoing investment in grid-scale renewables. All worthy pursuits, but unlikely to push the urgent change that is desperately needed.
How does Australia compare to the rest of the world?
It's obviously no secret that Australia is trailing far, far behind the rest of the world. For some context, the UK is aiming to reach 50% levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2023-2027, which is a 61% decrease, as outlined in the federal government’s Climate Change Authority. Over in America, The Biden administration has pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 based on 2005 levels – which is almost double Australia’s current pledge of a 26-28 per cent reduction over the same timeframe.
Needless to say, there's no parallel universe where Morrison is leading climate action, and to believe otherwise is not only problematic, but dangerous.