I’ll be appearing (virtually) tomorrow, Monday 1 February to give evidence to the the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Zali Steggall’s Climate Bills 2020, the core of which is a proposal to set a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As readers would expected, I’ll be supporting the bill.
At almost exactly the same time, Scott Morrison is going to address the National Press Club, and there are rumours he’s planning an announcement on climate policy. Given the natural human desire to see patterns in the universe, and a little bit of past history it immediately occurred to me that Morrison might announce that the government had decided to commit to 2050 net zero.
Such a decision would make great political sense for Morrison, if he focused on the objective situation rather than in-group loyalties. Now that Albanese has backed away from any firm commitment other than 2050 net zero, Morrison is in a great position to “dish the Whigs” by outflanking him, perhaps by adding in an upgraded 2030 commitment.
Equally importantly, the geopolitical need to act has become urgent. Biden has announced a major climate summit for Earth Day, 22 April, at which leaders will be pressed to enhance their commitments. The main target is China, where the push is to bring their 2060 target forward to 2050 and back it up with some firm action. But of the real laggards, with no zero commitment at all, Australia is the only one that isn’t already a pariah like Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Unless he wants a major international embarrassment, Morrison has to come up with something big, and soon.
This has largely unnoticed by our political class, who are still suggesting that nothing needs to be done until the Glasgow COP in November, and that an election can be held before then.
Supposedly, the big obstacle to this is the resistance of rightwingers on Morrison’s backbench, and in the National Party. Fear of this group will probably lead Morrison to duck the issue. But really, there’s nothing they can do. Even if they cross the floor and deprive the government of its majority, Morrison can carry on for months without a majority (as happened last time), then call an election at a time of his choosing to demand a mandate. He’d win easily, I think, with the backing of the business sector (who want the issue settled) and all the main media outlets.
My guess is that he will squib it. That was what Turnbull and Rudd did, when they wasted huge popularity looking for support from the wrong people, and what Gillard did kowtowing to Joe de Bruyn on equal marriage when she could easily have faced him down. It’s far easier to ignore objective reality than to disregard the opinions of long-standing allies, even when you don’t actually need their support.
fn1. For a brief period early in the pandemic, it seemed as if any policy I advocated would be adopted by the government a few days later. It didn’t last.