“Our guidelines are not set in the UK, they are not set in Brussels, they are not set in any other part of the world,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, dismissing his British counterpart Boris Johnson.
At every conference called by Biden, our Prime Minister is classified as an outlier by this thinking. We have positioned ourselves with the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently producing a burnt bowl from the Amazon, and with Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the Saudi Petro-state, who himself has to contend with record temperatures in summer – one of his cities reaches 55 degrees Celsius. We will join the leader who, with Donald Trump’s departure, is now the global climate denier – “the trump card of the tropics” – and a desert empire that knows only one way to create wealth – extract and burn.
For Australia, which talks about gas and does not commit to net zero, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are congenial partners. The Brazilian foreign minister says climate change is a “cultural Marxist” conspiracy. This is little different from what Scott Morrison’s closest media allies say on Sky.
Saudi delegates at international conferences have worked to delay climate action since the 1995 Madrid conference. This is not much different from former Prime Minister John Howard. Marian Wilkinson in Der Carbon Club reveals that when Howard first met with George W. Bush in 2001, he volunteered with the new president to undermine the Kyoto Protocol and turn the UN climate negotiations upside down.
But the US has been hit by California fires and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast – both worsened by rising temperatures – and has elected a president who believes science and whose majority vote can reach six million. The Biden program overlaps seamlessly with the Green New Deal by progressive Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When it was released in early 2019, Congressmen’s massive policy package was viewed as radical.
Canberra must now struggle to keep up with the US, which is committed to taking all coal and gas off the grid by 2030 and basing economic stimulus on green initiatives that will net it by 2050 – Make zero CO2 emissions is re-imposed by the Presidential Policy.
In fact, on the first day of his presidency, Biden committed to “aggressive new methane limits” for gas and oil. This will be Biden’s strategy to bypass the opposition of a Republican-dominated Senate: consistently apply the presidential guidelines. Biden’s team wants the US to form a global coalition to urge coal-financing countries to drop coal investments.
Senior ministers in Morrison’s administration called for a boycott of ANZ last month as the bank put forward plans for it, prepared for zero net emissions, and ended funding new coal mines and power plants by 2030. This was a careful risk assessment by the bank to help reduce the carbon footprint of their loan book. What will Ministers Michael McCormack and David Littleproud say in January when it becomes our great ally’s policy? That we are boycotting US products in protest?
Biden’s chief climate advisor, John Podesta, who is driving the global coalition, speculated in his foreign affairs article in May about who America’s natural allies might be for “climate-centered foreign policy.” He named Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. They would be partners, he said, “for an economic transformation with little or no carbon emissions”. Podesta wrote to the UK saying that EU members would “remain essential allies of the US in pursuing a net-zero world”. But – oops – Australia is not mentioned. Podesta was Clinton’s chief of staff and Obama’s adviser on the climate. He knows us too well.
Do we want to be in the next president’s climate club, or do we want to stay out and mumble that our energy policy is not made by others? Australia said last year it was “rising” in the Pacific. Well, the Pacific Island states said, but told us to stop opening mines and talking gas to think about their reefs and villages before we deal with carbon. Canberra shrugged. But the islets have just made a powerful ally. You now have a new president in your camp, whose pen is ready for a decarbonization agenda.
Bob Carr was NSW’s longest-serving Prime Minister and former Australian Secretary of State. He is an Industry Professor of Climate and Economics at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Bob Carr is NSW’s longest-serving Prime Minister and former Australian Secretary of State. He is an Industry Professor of Climate and Economics at the University of Technology in Sydney.
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