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Alan Kohler: Scott Morrison, the Murdochs and the crime of the century

A catastrophe verified by scientists was turned into a political debate to protect oil and gas company profits, writes Alan Kohler. Photo: TND

It’s not entirely Scott Morrison’s fault that he managed to look like a dissembling idiot at President Joe Biden’s leader’s summit on climate change last week.

He probably hasn’t read a word of the science about global warming and the grim future that awaits his children and grandchildren.

That’s not an excuse, but it tells us the scientists and bureaucrats who advise him and other politicians have been falling down badly on their jobs.

Those people who actually know what’s going on have allowed themselves to be intimidated by Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch and their bullies, who in turn have been collaborators in the crime of the century.

That the fossil fuel industry managed to turn global warming into a political issue – Left saying it’s happening, Right saying it’s not – might have been tactically brilliant, but it was also a vast global crime.

A looming catastrophe verified by scientists was turned into just another political debate to protect the profits of oil, gas and coal companies.

And, as everyone knows, there’s no better way to put a stop to something than to send it to a committee.

The Murdochs were enthusiastic accessories to the crime.

They feverishly supported the politicisation of climate change and enabled the cynical right-wing politicians who chose to exploit it, like Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and the others. It also split the Murdoch family, with James quitting in protest.

As a result, the Kyoto meeting in 1997, when the world’s leaders first gathered with the evidence in front of them, achieved virtually nothing.

For most of the 24 years since then, every time a right-wing political party has got into power – usually with the help of the Murdochs – progress on climate change stopped, with the recent honourable exception of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the UK, perhaps because of EU influence.

Mr Biden’s summit last week was an attempt to get things going after another four wasted years under Donald Trump, following the eight wasted years of George W Bush, and the eight largely wasted years of Barack Obama.

Australia, to its credit, voted for an emissions trading scheme for four of those 24 years, but it was repealed by the subsequent right-wing government, egged on, of course, by the Murdochs.

And that government is still there, led now by the incurious Scott Morrison, who has discovered that he must lead his Murdoch-soaked party to a sober reality.

For Mr Morrison, last week’s Zoom summit was a chance to try out some new fudge but it didn’t go well and he wound up looking like an inept spinner.

For Mr Biden it was little more than a start. The President used it to announce a doubling of its emissions-reduction target to roughly 50 per cent by 2030, on the way to net zero by 2050, but there was no description of how it’s to be achieved.

He also confirmed the agenda for the next UN meeting in Glasgow later this year: “We must try to keep the Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

US President Joe Biden announced more ambitious targets at the climate summit. Photo: AAP

The 2015 Paris Agreement said: “2 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees”, but the flood and fires that have resulted from the 1 degree of warming that has occurred so far – especially the fires in California and eastern Australia – have made it clear that 2 degrees is not enough.

The clarity of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has also been powerful.

Scott Morrison was right about one thing though: It’s not about spruiking targets any more, but about what is delivered, and that is entirely about money – in three ways.

First, there will be the cost of dealing with even 1.5 degrees of warming, which will still result in a lot more fires, floods and other extreme weather events than there are now. The insurance industry will struggle.

Second is the money that will have to be transferred from advanced nations to developing ones to compensate them for not using fossil fuels, as the rich countries did to become rich.

At last week’s summit, President Biden promised to double America’s contribution to poorer countries to $5.7 billion a year.

This is a fraction of what is needed, according to Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute.

And third is recognising the true cost of fossil fuels.

The world is currently on a path to a disastrous 2 to 2.5 degrees of warming because very few countries are meeting their Paris commitments.

To turn that around and get to 1.5 degrees will require either a global price on carbon – through a tax or, more likely, global emissions trading – or massive government spending, which means other taxes. Or both.

The idea that it can be achieved with “Hydrogen Valleys” just like America’s Silicon Valley, as Mr Morrison spruiked on Thursday night, is just a pathetic attempt at diversion.

He didn’t mention this, but Australia already has a sort of price on carbon – it’s just not high enough.

On Friday, the Clean Energy Regulator auctioned 6.8 million tonnes of abatement for an average price of $15.99 per tonne (the government pays companies to reduce emissions and the price is set by auction twice a year).

Last week the carbon price in the European emissions trading scheme hit a record high of 45 euros per tonne, or $70.

The small Australian political bubble is now focused on whether the Murdochs will allow Mr Morrison to drag his party to the new target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and 1.5 degrees of warming by the time he has to front the Glasgow conference on November 1.

Over the next six months the world political bubble will be focused on horse-trading over money between rich and poor countries so that a credible warming limit of 1.5 degrees can be announced in Glasgow.

The rest of us need to brace ourselves to pay up, and for a reduced standard of living.

The bill for having built a prosperous, convenient society on fossil fuels and plastics is about to be presented.

Alan Kohler writes twice a week for The New Daily. He is also editor in chief of Eureka Report and finance presenter on ABC news