Hint and miss for climate targets

There is nothing clever about hinting at a target. Scott Morrison can smile and insinuate, but to the climate it makes no difference.

His audio can be muted at a summit and it doesn’t matter because he’s not saying anything. This is how he governs.

The best science tells us to match America’s commitment for a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and to set a goal of net zero by 2050. The solution is so simple that Australia has already done it once: introduce a carbon price and mandated targets for change.

Instead, we are pouring money into novel technologies and using grants to prop up failing industries. Our inaction is soon to be punished by carbon tariffs. Huge markets will close to our goods, starting with the European Union. Still, Morrison is unmoved.

The prime minister believes in signs from God, but not in the burning bushes of Black Summer or the plague that is coronavirus and the fact such pandemics will be worse and more frequent on a heating planet. He keeps a light grin and promises to meet and beat targets no one else is talking about.

Morrison continues to view climate change as an issue of identity. When he talks about the solutions that won’t come from “the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities” he borrows old rhetoric from the Australian Hotels Association about people who “don’t want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book”.

Somehow, the case for Sydney beer-halls is the same as the case against climate action. It’s a sweaty argument, wholly out of touch, about an Australia where the sun was always hot and dinner was served at six. The real argument, though, is about a country stuck with that vision of itself – a proud outlier in a world that has moved on, whose goods are too dirty to sell and whose government sees this as a point of pride.

Kevin Rudd was wrong to frame climate change as a moral problem. It is not about what is good but what is necessary. It is a business and geopolitical problem, a practical problem, a health problem, an environmental problem.

In Rudd’s construction are the beginnings of Morrison’s identity argument, and it is here that Australia is stalled.

There is pride in the government’s inaction. There is stubbornness in the solutions it pretends to and the industries it supports. Every day without a target is seen as a win rather than as the terrible failure it really is. Avoiding catastrophe is seen as effete, as if it were a bread plate or a French cuff.

Australia can hold out only so long. Industry will change to meet a changing world. As wine bars came to Surry Hills, emissions reduction will come to Australia. Morrison could embrace this. He could make a simple, responsible choice. Or he could wait until it is forced on Australia by a world more innovative and aware than this country’s leaders believe us to be.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 1, 2021 as "Hint and miss for climate targets ".

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