Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made what should have been a historic moment in Australian history by announcing that the country would seek to limit our carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
We’ve fought amongst ourselves for decades over this topic. Through the ‘climate wars’ of the Howard era, to the carbon credit scheme of the previous Labor administration, and the subsequent trashing of that legacy by the current coalition government, Australia has done battle with itself time and time again, weighing up the economic, industrial, and human cost of climate change. Finally, reason has won out, and convinced a government — who would have been laughed out of office just 10 years ago if it had proposed something similar — to do the right thing.
The rest of the world, however, doesn’t know or care about all of that. All they saw yesterday was a man standing in front of a board announcing he’ll do net zero “the Australian way”, supported by a plan that looks as if it could have been written in crayon.
While Australia deals with the fall out of this momentous decision, congratulating ourselves for having finally put that pen to paper on that target, the rest of the world is already well ahead of us. To them, our decision looks weak, late, and hardly worth the paper it was written upon.
“We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia,” Morrison wrote in an op-ed on the day of the announcement. That’s probably for the best, as “those who do not understand” have a lot to say on the issue. Here’s how the rest of the world reacted to Australia’s net zero “plan”.
“One of the World’s Most Criticised Polluters”
The BBC, public broadcaster for the land from which the lady on our money comes from, has been tearing into Australia for some time and yesterday was no different.
In their article covering the announcement, the BBC is now introducing our country as “Leading global coal and gas supplier Australia.”
They note that “the plan would not include ending Australia’s fossil fuel sectors” and that “The nation will also not set ambitious targets for 2030 – an objective of next month’s COP26 global climate summit”.
The article quotes Murdoch University fire ecology expert Joe Fontaine, saying our plan has “all the strength of a wet paper bag”.
“Australia has long dragged its heels on climate action. It has some of the highest emissions per head of population and is a massive exporter of fossil fuels,” the article continues, making our conflict of interest over the issue front and centre.
Four days ago, the globally renowned broadcaster published an article explaining why Australia “refuses to give up coal” and mentioned the fact that Australia “is one of the dirtiest countries per head of population.”
The BBC’s flagship news programme introduced the decision by referring to us as “one of the world’s most criticised polluters” and described the announcement as “long delayed”.
It followed that up with the fact that bringing new targets for 2030 is the point of the upcoming Glasgow climate summit, to which Scott Morrison is expected to announce his “plans,” by again highlighting the fact that we have no new 2030 updates to share.
The UK, for its part, has a 21 document, 1868 page strategy for reaching net zero by 2050 with legislated changes to reduce fossil fuel dependence and emissions with a raft of policy decisions.
Separately, The Financial Times also said that Australia remains “wedded to fossil fuels” much to the “dismay of green groups which say phasing them out is key to credible decarbonisation goals”.
Across the sea, The Irish Times quoted a senior executive at Australia’s Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit who said Australia was “in the same camp very much as the Saudis” in presenting “an alternative vision of how you can get to net zero” while still burning fossil fuels.
“Hard to Believe”
The US was similarly unimpressed with our proposal yesterday, with several leading op-eds in some of the countries most prominent newspapers.
Stating that the plan contained very little of what scientists believe is necessary to achieve a drop in predicted global temperature rises, the paper wrote that our plan means “dependence on fossil fuels will continue.”
This decision is “prompting critics to argue that [Morrison] will be arriving in Scotland for the climate gathering with an outdated status quo wrapped up in new packaging”.
They quote climate and energy director at the Australian Institute, Richie Merzian, who said: “This is an update on the marketing materials used by the federal government to claim it’s doing something when it’s really doing nothing new.”
“It’s kind of ridiculous.”
The connection between our “overreliance” on coal and our inaction on climate change was not missed, as the NYT highlighted the fact that we are both one of the world’s largest coal supporters and, ironically, one of the most at risk from climate change.
CNN also didn’t hold back, calling Australia “the rich world’s weakest link at COP26 with hollow net zero and emissions pledges.”
“Morrison will go to COP26, reluctantly, with the weakest climate plan among the G20’s developed nations. The leader has also ignored months of calls to increase the country’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which is at around half that of the US’ pledge, and even further below the European Union’s and United Kingdom’s,” CNN wrote.
They also contrast our approach with that of other nations, saying that a “dozens of countries have already put forward plans to reach net zero” and that “more than a dozen have already enshrined them into law, and most that have announced the goal intend to legislate in the future”. Australia has refused to make the changes legally binding.
“Of the G20’s advanced nations, only Australia, Italy and the US still have net zero in policy documents, rather than in law, a net zero tracker from the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit shows.
“In the US’ case, President Joe Biden is at least trying hard to get his sweeping climate plans through Congress. He’s struggling, but he’s likely to get something passed to support net zero. And Italy’s targets will need to eventually meet requirements set by the EU. That essentially makes Australia the weakest link”.
These are just some of the headlines and coverage that make up the global response to Australia and it’s interesting to note that all of them see Morrison’s grandstanding for what it is: a lack of commitment supported by marketing, dodgy accounting, and a lack of transparency in an effort to protect precious coal markets.
With an election on the horizon, and polls showing that the coalition is losing ground on climate change, there’s little wonder why Morrison has even bothered to polish this turd. While the rest of the world is clearly not going to accept it, it remains to be seen whether we will.