News National Too clever by half? PM has let the climate cat out of the bag – and there’s no putting it back

Too clever by half? PM has let the climate cat out of the bag – and there’s no putting it back

Scott Morrison's endorsement of climate science could open the way, finally, for putting a price on carbon pollution.
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A lot of energy has been expended this week, particularly on social media, dismissing the prime minister’s talk about doing more on climate change.

It’s an understandable response, given Scott Morrison has clearly been reluctant to aggravate the forces of climate denial and resistance within the government’s ranks, let alone those in the conservative media.

What’s more, strategically leaked stories to the same right-wing media outlets have suggested the PM’s language could just be part of a public relations effort to make the government ‘appear’ more inclined to take climate action – without any real intention to do so.

But even if Mr Morrison had spin rather than action in mind when he mentioned ‘evolving’ the government’s climate policies last weekend, it may be impossible for him to put that genie back into the bottle.

Science Minister Karen Andrews is one Liberal who accepts the settled science. Photo: AAP

The PM not only created an expectation in the Australian community, he essentially gave permission to any other government MP to talk about climate action too. Ministers could speak without fear of breaching Cabinet solidarity in support of evolving the policy, while backbenchers could free-range on the path this evolution could take.

We didn’t have to wait long for that to occur. One contribution in particular was promising, with Science Minister Karen Andrews saying it was well past time to end the debate over the existence of climate change.

“Every second that we spend talking about whether the climate is changing, is a second we are not spending on looking at adaptation, mitigation strategies,” she said before meeting with scientists and researchers to discuss bushfires.

One of the Liberal MPs identified in this column last week – as potentially receptive to voter calls for stronger climate action – also spoke to the media along these lines.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday that Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said “Australians want us to get on with the job of meeting our Paris emissions but look at what more we can do to reduce our emissions further.” However other moderate Liberals quoted in the same article were less forthright, simply backing the Science Ministers’ comments.

Trent Zimmerman sees the Paris accord as the start of further carbon reductions. Photo: ABC

The government’s initial, tentative comments about greater climate action have not received a particularly positive reception. As mentioned earlier, there is a strong suspicion that PM Morrison has no intention of walking this pro-climate action talk. Other critics accuse the government of deceiving voters by promoting its ‘practical’ climate actions, namely resilience and adaptation activities, to appear to be doing something while continuing to resist further emissions reduction.

The reality is that all three approaches are needed in an effective climate action plan – resilience, adaptation and emissions reduction (also called mitigation). In continuing to pressure the government to take stronger action, we should remember this.

It is easy to find fault in the Morrison government, or any Coalition government for that matter, when it comes to climate action. Ten years of refusing to accept what the climate science says has undoubtedly led to Australia’s negligent lack of preparedness for the current bushfire season. But now the PM has provided an opportunity – inadvertent or not – to change this.

It doesn’t matter if Scott Morrison intends to walk the talk on climate action. He has started a conversation that cannot be silenced with anything other than a response that is a genuine, effective climate action plan.