News Paul Bongiorno: Climate ambitions stir trouble for Morrison and Albanese

Paul Bongiorno: Climate ambitions stir trouble for Morrison and Albanese

Joe Biden does not consider Australia to be a climate ally. Photo: TND
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The incoming Biden administration in the United States has already formed the view that Australia is not a like-minded country on combatting climate change.

Scott Morrison begs to differ, but it appears he has been left off the invitation list to an international climate conference President-elect Biden is planning next year to address what he describes as the “climate crisis”.

Mr Biden will commit $2.4 trillion to transform America’s electricity system to achieve zero electricity emissions by 2035 on the way to a target of net-zero emissions overall by 2050.

The Prime Minister cites Australia’s unbroken commitment to the Paris climate accords as evidence of his government’s seriousness but is refusing to sign up to net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Liberals’ record isn’t exactly convincing.

There has been a mere 1 per cent reduction in Australian emissions since the Coalition came to power in 2013 and on its own projections it will deliver only a 4 per cent reduction over the decade.

No one believes Australia will achieve its 26 per cent reduction promised at Paris by 2030 without an accounting fiddle, nor that it is in any way sufficient to achieve net zero even by the second half of the century.

That apparently is the view of John Podesta, a key figure in the Biden campaign who will play an important role in his government.

labor energy coalition
Anthony Albanese has restated Labor’s pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says “it is a big problem for us” that Mr Podesta names the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Europe, Japan and Korea but not Australia as a climate ally.

However, Labor’s efforts to paint the Morrison government as an isolated outlier in the new Biden green universe was undermined when its resources spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, questioned his colleagues who say it was central to Mr Biden’s win.

Joel Fitzgibbon has privately urged the ALP to stop pretending it's a "government-in-exile".
Joel Fitzgibbon continues to support gas and coal against the wishes of his Labor colleagues. Photo: AAP

Mr Fitzgibbon angered front bench colleagues when he continued his support for gas and coal and told The Australian that Left faction members were delusional for thinking Mr Biden’s victory was a clarion call for “courageous” climate change policies.

Some are demanding that Mr Fitzgibbon quit the front bench if he wants to match the coal warriors in the Coalition.

But Mr Fitzgibbon, who saw a huge swing against him in his Hunter Valley coal seat, believes he is saving the party from itself by changing the emphasis in its messaging on resources.

Mr Albanese cut short a reporter at his Monday news conference to insist Labor’s position was very clear on the reality of climate change, the necessity for action from the national government, a 2050 net-zero target and job-creating commitment to renewables.

He says every member of the Labor party supports this agenda, but he is certainly aware of the sentiment that he should rein in Mr Fitzgibbon.

However, Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles, whose anti-coal sentiments in the run up to the last election caused damage in Queensland resources seats, has a lot of sympathy for Mr Fitzgibbon standing up for workers in the resources sector.

He told ABC TV to suggest there is not going to be a place for gas and coal for decades to come “is just not right”.

Joe Biden, speaking at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, is focused on addressing the ‘climate crisis’. Photo: Getty

Indeed, Mr Biden made a similar point in the last TV debate with President Donald Trump.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor told Parliament that Labor’s “peace deal” on the issue had fractured and that while Labor MPs “fight amongst themselves” the government will get on with the job.

Window dressing and clever marketing of climate inaction will not convince Mr Biden and other world leaders like Britain’s Boris Johnson.

Huge areas of Western Australia on Monday were subject to catastrophic fire danger warnings and it is only November.

Public opinion in Australia, according to an Australia Institute survey last month, found 83 per cent of Australians want coal-fired power stations phased out and 68 per cent want a national net-zero target by 2050.

On these figures, millions of Australians will be hoping President-elect Biden’s global leadership will finally end the climate wars here.

The costs of inaction are simply too great.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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