Scott Morrison says Australia would like to achieve a net zero emissions reduction ambition “as quickly as possible” – but one of his own backbenchers has declared signing up to net zero would be an act of “political suicide”.
The Australian prime minister has faced sustained questions about the government’s climate commitments since Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the American presidential election at the weekend.
Biden says after his inauguration America will sign up to a net zero target by 2050 and the US will also rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
Morrison has dead-batted the questions from journalists and Labor, telling parliament on Monday the government had never left the Paris accord and “when it comes to the matter of net zero by 2050, Australia would like to meet that as quickly as possible – as quickly as it’s able”.
Morrison has argued Australia will take a technological approach to emissions reduction, and will not sign up to net zero because of diplomatic pressure from elsewhere. But the prime minister has never ruled out adopting the target.
But the outspoken Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who campaigned vociferously alongside Tony Abbott and fellow conservatives to scuttle the national energy guarantee in the last parliament, told Guardian Australia on Monday there would be “real concern” if the Coalition ultimately adopted net zero.
Kelly said if there was a move to adopt the 2050 target, the government would need to lay out how that level of emissions reduction would be achieved, “and as soon as you do that, that’s when the argy bargy starts”.
“Net zero would cause a lot of pain to a lot of people in a lot of electorates,” Kelly said on Monday.
The MP said the Coalition won the federal election in 2019 because it had a “strong differential with Labor” on climate policy and he said aligning the government’s policy offering with Labor’s net zero commitment would be “political suicide”.
While Kelly expressed that view, a number of Liberal moderates, including Jason Falinski, Andrew Bragg, Tim Wilson and Katie Allen, lined up on Monday to support a new plan by the New South Wales government to spearhead a $32bn private investment boom in renewable energy in regional areas.
“Once again NSW is leading the way,” Falinski said on Twitter. “At this rate NSW will be at net zero emissions by 2050.” The NSW government has already articulated a goal to reach net zero by 2050.
While the government is facing questions about the adequacy of its climate commitments in the wake of the American election result, Labor is battling internal divisions about a medium term emissions reduction target.
With the shadow climate minister Mark Butler and the shadow resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon continuing to express contradictory views, the Labor leader Anthony Albanese declared on Monday that he articulated Labor’s policy position.
Albanese said Labor had signed up to a net zero target, and he said voters would know before the next election “exactly our process of going up to net zero emissions by 2050”.
The Labor leader has previously committed to unveiling a medium term emissions reduction target consistent with climate change science before the next election – but Monday’s language was more open.
Butler has rejected an idea that Labor adopt the same 2030 target as the government, and Fitzgibbon has threatened to quit the shadow cabinet if the opposition adopts a medium-term emissions reduction target he cannot live with.
Fitzgibbon has publicly warned colleagues not to interpret Biden’s victory as a green light for ambitious climate policies, but Butler says the result in America shows an ambitious climate policy can help Labor win elections rather than cost the party power, provided colleagues and activists mount the case for action rather than warring among themselves.
Butler said Biden’s victory showed “a strong, courageous policy on climate action and jobs can be a central part of a winning election formula in an economy very similar to ours”.
Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong echoed that language on Monday. “What the Biden victory demonstrates is that a centre-left party can be elected with an ambitious climate policy,” she told the ABC.
“President-elect Biden’s policy is not only net zero by 2050, it’s zero emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, it’s a massive investment in clean energy – and that demonstrates that we have the world’s greatest power on track to be part of the fight against climate change.”