Australians want climate action. But as Penny Wong says, Morrison Govt increasingly 'internationally isolated'

Australians want climate action. But as Penny Wong says, Morrison Govt increasingly ‘internationally isolated’

Boris Johnson calls for "bold action". Scott Morrison talks of "practical pathways". Just as 71% of Australians say Australia should be an international leader on climate.

New research has found that 83 per cent of Australians support phasing out coal-fired power stations, and four in five Australians declaring they’re worried about climate-driven bushfires.

The research from The Australia Institute’s Climate of the National report also found that 71 per cent of respondents believe Australia should be a world leader on climate action and, overall, that COVID-19 has strengthened the resolve of Australians to push for climate action.

Right now, Australia couldn’t be further from being the leader that the majority of those polled have called for the country to be. Rather, it could be a “regressive force” on climate policy, up there with the Trump Administration that looks set to be voted out of oblivion next week. 

Such leadership is actually happening elsewhere — and yes we can point to plenty of women on the list. But it’s also now emerging from places that may have previously been considered unlikely.

This week, Japan became the latest major economy to issue a net zero emissions pledge.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared his aim to realise a “decarbonised society”, saying that responding to climate change is no longer “a constraint on economic growth.”

Rather, taking assertive measures against climate change, he said, “will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

He also promised to “fundamentally shift our long-standing policy on coal-fired power generation.”

This comes from a country that has long seen coal as an essential export product, and key to energy security.

Japan made the announcement weeks after the world’s biggest carbon emitter, China, announced a goal of reaching net-zero emissions before 2060. The ambition has been described as a ‘game-changer’, and comes just as the EU has promised to strengthen its Paris commitments, promising to cut emissions by 55 per cent by 2030.

Meanwhile over in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also has a policy of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

And Australia?

Prime Mininster Scott Morrison is determined to stay the cause of inaction. A course of a gas-led recovery, something numerous experts have determined not only a bad idea environmentally, but also economically.

While Morrison released a press release this week following his call with Boris Johnson regarding climate change this week, Morrison avoided mentioing anything close to the “bold action” that Johnson described is internationally needed, in his own press release. The UK PM declared that “driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand in hand”.

Morrison’s press release said that the UK had “welcomed” Australia’s “increase in emissions reduction programs announced through the budget and strongly endorsed our focus on unlocking practical pathways to reducing emissions”.

The two country’s statements on the conversation that was had on climate action read very differently. Something that Labor Senator Penny Wong pushed to address during Senate Estimates, highlighting it as yet more evidence that Australia is “isolated internationally” on climate change policy.

“No amount of words and no amount of adjectives … can hide the fact that your government is increasingly isolated internationally on climate,” Senator Wong said.

“There’s no reference to net zero, there’s no reference to bold action and there’s no reference to ambitious targets,” she said, while pressing Foreign Minister Marise Payne on the talks.

“They say different things,” she said comparing the Australian statement to that issued by the UK. “One talks about net zero and one completely ignores it.”

On Wednesday, Morrison dug in, saying “our policies won’t be set in the United Kingdom”, that there are “many views that are held around the world, but I tell you what, our policies will be set here in Australia.”

Morrison’s comments come as ANZ has today just announced its own ambitious net zero emissions plan, issuing low-carbon deadlines on a number of industries and promising to “move away from working with customers that don’t have clear and public transition plans.” It brings the bank more in line with recent announcements from NAB and Westpac – and it’s already seen the Morrison Government accusing it of “crippling” Australian businesses and farming families (although the bank has said it won’t impact family farms). 

As I wrote recently, Australia was already ranked 57th on climate change policies, with the Morrison Government described as a “regressive force”. We’re now headed even further down the list, left behind on an “axis of carbon”.

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