When the federal Coalition was elected to government in 2013, they took a great deal of glee in repealing the very effective Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). It was in part because the then Prime Minister, the bizarre and incompetent Tony Abbott, who, previously, had said some years earlier that climate science was “crap”, apparently still believed it was1. Perhaps the second most telling single incident betraying the attitude of the government to climate change was from current Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he brought a lacquered lump of coal into parliament2. Of course, there are many other climate change deniers in the federal Coalition, some of which have been the target of derision here before3-6.
One thing which has struck me is the difference in attitude to climate change between Scott Morrison and the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, both of whom are useless buffoons. The latter has recently committed the UK to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Indeed, the UK will cut greenhouse gas emissions further and faster than any other major economy in the next decade, according to a new carbon target set by Johnson. There will be a reduction of 68% in annual carbon emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, a significant increase on the current target of a 57% reduction. This increased ambition is intended to galvanise other countries into following suit, as Johnson prepares to co-host a virtual Climate Ambition summit of world leaders on December 12, and a major summit (COP26) in Glasgow next year7.
In late October, Johnson spoke to Morrison on the phone and emphasised the need for “bold action” to address climate change. A statement from Morrison regarding the phone call noted that Johnson “welcomed” Australian emissions reduction initiatives and “strongly endorsed” the Australian approach8. However, the statement from Johnson’s office was quite different: “The Prime Minister also stressed that we need bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK’s experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand-in-hand. Looking ahead to the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December and COP26 in Glasgow next year, he emphasised the importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach Net Zero. They agreed to intensify the partnership between the UK and Australia on developing and scaling up green technologies”9. Morrison was caught out lying again.
Johnson invited Morrison to speak at the December 12 summit several weeks ago but has withdrawn the offer this week amid behind-the-scenes machinations over whether Australia’s climate change policies were insufficient to warrant a speaking slot. While Morrison told Parliament that he was not miffed by the snub, the government is privately furious and much of its anger is directed towards Johnson who, with the UN and France, is hosting the conference. Morrison had planned to use the speech to announce (again) that Australia would not use its Kyoto carryover credits to achieve its 2030 emissions reduction targets. In the lead-up to the summit, the three co-hosts had provided all member states with very clear guidance that speaking slots would go to countries and other actors who show the most ambitious climate change action. Selwin Hart, the special adviser to UN secretary-general António Guterres on climate action, said Australia had not met the threshold needed to speak.
While Morrison seems incapable of doing anything sensible, it does make me wonder why this is so. Is it purely because of the number of Coalition politicians who have been bought by fossil fuel producers or other denialist organisations, while the Conservatives haven’t in the UK, or is there something deeper. Could it be because Margaret Thatcher had an honours degree in chemistry (specialising in x-ray crystallography), understood science and, therefore, realised the danger of global warming (as she then called it). When she addressed the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1990, she said: “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations….Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community”. She added: “We shall need statesmanship of a rare order”11.
The danger of global warming is unseen no more, but remaining unseen is any semblance of statesmanship in Australia. Australia is now very isolated by its refusal to seriously address climate change. As former premier of South Australia, Mike Rann said: “There’s now a headlong rush by Australian diplomats to convince overseas governments that Australia really is ambitious to tackle climate change and reduce emissions. It isn’t working. Influential decision makers in host countries are laughing about it. They know it isn’t true”12. Beijing has been laughing at us, and now, so is most of Europe, and after January 20th, it is likely the US will do so too.