No pants, no target

Scott Morrison’s response to climate change is to take off his pants. It is not yet summer and his office has released pictures of him dressed for press conferences from the waist up. Below his jacket are a pair of shorts and rubber thongs. His legs are raw with mosquito bites.

This is intended to be endearing: the larrikin who’ll wear a suit only if he has to, getting one over you on a Zoom call. Probably it works. In truth, it’s a picture of a man who is never more than half prepared. What Scott Morrison thinks is clever is usually the opposite.

Morrison refuses to set a target for emissions reduction, although the reality is every state and territory already has. He says “the second half of this century”, as if a 50-year window for net zero represents a shrewd piece of drafting and not the destruction of the planet.

At the G20 this week, he said “what we’ve set, we’ve met”. As with his social policies, he mistakes rhyme for action. He’s still talking the lie of carbon capture and the false transition of gas. The numbers he does have run out in a decade. Labor is little better.

Australia has a moment of opportunity: to join the rest of the world in addressing global warming, or to keep going with whatever school rugby trip Scott Morrison is on. External factors will force this decision and so the question is: Why doesn’t Morrison just agree to what is obvious, if only to save what little face he has? Why doesn’t he announce a target of net zero by 2050, and do what needs to be done? Surely the gains in Queensland – if that’s what it is – are not worth the isolation in the world. Surely they are not worth the death and catastrophe that accompanies inaction.

John Kerry’s appointment as America’s special envoy for climate will put more pressure on Australia. Kerry will return the United States to the Paris agreement and re-engage Europe on higher commitments. Soon climate action will feature in trade agreements. Kerry will set it in national security terms, as he did as secretary of state. A moment of real change is near.

Kerry has already indicated that his approach to climate change will be international. “To end this crisis,” he says, “the whole world must come together.” He points to the Glasgow climate conference as a key moment next year: “All nations must raise ambition together or we will all fail together, and failure is not an option.”

And then there is Scott Morrison, a fundamentally unserious person, standing in The Lodge without his pants and asking his mates if anyone on the call noticed.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 28, 2020 as "No pants, no target".

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