Scott Morrison is being exposed by US president Joe Biden on climate action

RECKLESS: Prime Minister Scott Morrison's indifference is confirming Australia as the global laggard. Picture: Canberra Times
RECKLESS: Prime Minister Scott Morrison's indifference is confirming Australia as the global laggard. Picture: Canberra Times

It's not just that Scott Morrison doesn't get it. It's that he doesn't want to get it when it comes to the magnitude, severity and urgency of the climate challenge.

He relies on his small echo chamber of sycophantic journalists to support his almost daily announcement game/stunts without hesitation, conscience or scrutiny, and to perpetuate the myth of the "cleverness" of his politics.

His statements and inaction are grossly irresponsible. He sells out of the greater national interest for his perceived short-term political gain and in support of his fossil fuel mates. The cost is the lost investment, growth and jobs.

Under mounting global pressure in the run-up to US President Joe Biden's virtual climate change summit, Morrison has attempted - in his basic marketing style - to create the impression that Australia is taking decisive action.

His first initiative was to appoint a climate tsar, James Larsen, to address the "perception" that Australia is a laggard in climate action. However, it's not just a perception, but the reality - we are almost laughable.

Australia received the lowest rating of 57 countries ranked for climate policy in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index and the second-worst rating for climate action (out of 177 countries) in the 2020 Sustainable Development Report.

Our climate action is seen as poor and clearly irresponsible, given that we are the second largest exporter of fossil fuels, thermal coal and liquid natural gas, in the world.

When this is recognised, Australia ranks as about the fifth-largest contributor to global pollution.

Morrison has also run a charade over recent weeks that he was working toward a commitment to target net-zero emissions by 2050 - it's been a "hope", a "preference", with increasingly supportive words, from him and his media mates.

He has been desperate to have us interpret this as a struggle to build enough support within his government.

But still no formal commitment at this stage, and the suggestion of a "struggle" is nonsense - just weak leadership.

It would also be a meaningless and irresponsible commitment if he also sticks with the totally inadequate, Abbott-led Paris commitment of just 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. Morrison has declared his firm intention to stick with that.

This intransigence will further confirm us the global laggard, especially as Biden is using his summit to push countries to increase their 2030 commitments.

The US likely to nearly double its Paris commitment to 50 per cent.

The Europeans are already at 58 per cent, and the UK announced this week a target of 78 per cent for 2035 - but of a 1990 base, not our 2005 base.

Biden is driven by recognition of the inadequacy of the Paris agreement - even if achieved the planet would still warm by about 3.7C, nearly double the Paris soft objective of 2C warming.

The Climate Targets Panel, of which I am a member, recently demonstrated - using the government's data and model - that the 2030 target should be closer to 60 per cent.

If we stick with 26-28 per cent, we will need to achieve nearly 10 times the annual 2020-30 reductions each year beyond 2030 to meet our Paris obligations.

Morrison, of course, ignores these realities, preferring to obfuscate by misquoting data about "how well we are doing", ignoring our responsibilities and making unsubstantiated claims that we are leading the world in relevant energy technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Pretty much as he claimed that we were leading the world in tying up the COVID vaccine, ensuring a quick and effective rollout.

While Australia leads in renewables, solar and wind, with genuine potential to be an energy exporter, the world is yet to see hydrogen or CCS operating at cost-effective commercial scale.

CCS has had tens of billions poured into it over some 40 years, and ironically, even if it works at scale, still needs a very significant carbon price to ensure its commerciality.

Moreover, the world is building solar and wind capacity each year that will replace more than 100 times CO2 than the total CCS history.

Morrison's attraction to it is more as a way to shore up (subsidise) fossil fuels than as a genuine, deliverable technology break through.

He wraps it in concern about jobs, key industries and regional development - as if he has to make a choice?

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Hewson's View | Scott Morrison is being exposed by US president Joe Biden on climate action first appeared on The Canberra Times.