The PM will be praying for a Republican win in the US to back up his inaction on climate and the Paris Agreement.
A year out from Barack Obama›s election in 2008, John Howard made a stunning admission that he thought Americans should be praying for a Republican victory. Ideologically this was unremarkable. But the fact Howard said so publicly was because he knew just how uncomfortable an Obama victory would be for him given his refusal to withdraw our troops from Iraq.
Fast forward more than a decade, and Scott Morrison – even in the era of Donald Trump – will also be yearning desperately for a Republican victory come November. But this time it is the conservative recalcitrance on a very different issue that risks Australia being isolated on the world stage: climate change.
And as the next summer approaches, Australians will be reminded afresh of how climate change, and its impact on our country and economy, has not gone away.
Former vice-president Joe Biden has put at the centre of his campaign a historic plan to fight climate change both at home and abroad. On his first day in office, he has promised to return the US to the Paris Agreement. And he recently unveiled an unprecedented $2 trillion green investment plan, including the complete decarbonisation of the domestic electricity system by 2035.
By contrast, Morrison remains hell-bent on Australia doing its best to disrupt global momentum to tackle the climate crisis and burying our head in the sand when it comes to embracing the new economic opportunities that come with effective climate change action.
As a result, if Biden is elected this November, we will be on track for a collision course with our American ally in a number of areas.
First, Morrison remains recklessly determined on being able to carry over so-called «credits» from the overachievement of our 2020 Kyoto target to help it meet its already lacklustre 2030 target under the new Paris regime.
No other government in the world is digging their heels in like this. None. It is nothing more than an accounting trick to allow Australia to do less. Perhaps the greatest irony is that this «overachievement» was also in large part because of the mitigation actions of our government.
That aside, these carbon credits also do nothing for the atmosphere. At worst, using them beyond 2020 could be considered illegal and only opens the back door for other countries to also do less by following Morrison›s lead.
This will come to a head at the next UN climate talks in Glasgow next year. While Australia has thus far been able to dig in against objections by most of the rest of the world, a Biden victory would only strengthen the hand of the UK hosts to simply ride over the top of any further Australian intransigence. Morrison would be foolhardy to believe that Boris Johnson›s government will burn its political capital at home and abroad to defend the indefensible Australian position.
Second, unlike 114 countries around the world, Morrison remains hell-bent on ignoring the central promise of Paris: that all governments increase their 2030 targets by the time they get to Glasgow. That›s because even if all those commitments were fully implemented, it would only give the planet one-third of what is necessary to keep average temperature increases within 1.5 degrees by 2100, as the Paris Agreement requires. This is why governments agreed to increase their ambition every five years as technologies improved, costs lowered and political momentum built.
In 2014, the Liberal government explained our existing Paris target on the basis that it was the same as what the Americans were doing. In reality, the Obama administration planned to achieve the same cut of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 emissions by 2025 – not 2030 as we pledged and sought to disguise.
So based on the logic that what America does is this government›s benchmark for its global climate change commitments, if the US is prepared to increase it›s Paris target (as it will under Biden), so too should we. Biden himself has not just committed the US to the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but has undertaken to embed it in legislation as countries such as Britain and New Zealand have done, and rally others to do the same.
Unsurprisingly, despite the decisions of 121 countries around the world, Morrison also refuses to even identify a timeline for achieving the Paris Agreement›s long-term goal to reach net zero emissions. As the science tells us, this needs to be by 2050 to have any shot of protecting the world›s most vulnerable populations – including in the Pacific – and saving Australia from a rolling apocalypse of weather-related disasters that will wreak havoc on our economy. For our part, the government insists that it won›t «set a target without a plan». But governments exist to do the hard work. And politically, it goes against the myriad of support domestically for a net zero by 2050 goal, including from the peak business, industry and union groups, the top bodies for energy and agriculture (two sectors that together account for almost half of our emissions), as well as our national airline, two largest mining companies, every state and territory government, and even a majority of conservative voters.
As Tuvalu›s recent prime minister Enele Sopoaga reminded us recently, the fact that Morrison himself looked Pacific island leaders in the eye last year and promised to develop such a long-term plan – a promise he reiterated at the G20 – also shows we risk being a country that does not do what we say. For those in the Pacific, this just rubs salt into the wound of Morrison›s decision to blindly follow Trump›s lead in halting payments to the Green Climate Fund (something Biden would also reverse), requiring them to navigate a bureaucratic maze of individual aid programs as a result. Finally, Biden has undertaken to also align trade and climate policy by imposing carbon tariffs against those countries that fail to do their fair share in global greenhouse gas reductions. The EU is in the process of embracing the same approach. So if Morrison doesn›t act, he›s going to put our entire export sector at risk of punitive tariffs because the Liberals have so consistently failed to take climate change seriously.
Under Trump, Morrison has been able to get one giant leave pass for doing nothing on climate. But under Biden, he›ll be seen as nothing more than the climate change free-loader that he is. As he will by the rest of the world. And our economy will be punished as a result.