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With Australia’s climate criminal status on global display, what fate awaits?

Crikey logo Crikey 23/04/2021 Bernard Keane
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It was entirely appropriate that Scott Morrison was on mute when he began his address to Joe Biden’s climate summit overnight. He had nothing to say or offer, and although Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said “Mr Prime Minister I’m not sure we’re hearing you,” the message Morrison was sending the world was clear enough. Morrison may as well just have stuck his middle finger up at the camera.

Australia’s already woefully inadequate 26-28% emissions reduction target from 2005 levels by 2030 — set by arch-climate denialist Tony Abbott — now looks irrelevant at best and misleading at worst, regardless of how often Morrison and his ministers say that we will “meet and beat it”.

The United States is committed to reductions of 50-52% compared with 2005. The UK is committed to a 78% cut on 1990 levels by 2035. Canada — a resource economy very similar to Australia’s — is committed to 40-45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Norway’s is 50-55% by 2030. Japan is committed to 46% from 2013 levels by 2030. South Korea lifted its target to a 24.4% reduction on 2017 levels by 2030. And the European Union this week ratified its commitment to a 55% cut by 2030.

So Australia’s target is now half of the developed world consensus. And that consensus illustrates how irrelevant and distracting the Canberra press gallery’s obsession with a 2050 target is.

The climate battle is not over the next thirty years, it’s over the next ten. It’s here now, not off in ten political cycles. Political journalists convinced Morrison is slowly moving to a 2050 target are in a fossil fuel fantasy land where an urgent climate crisis can be ignored until our kids and grandkids deal with it.

Our lack of a meaningful target is one thing, but the Morrison government continues to invest in gas and coal-fired power, approve coal mines and invest in discredited fossil fuel industry scams like carbon capture and storage. We are, along with the likes of Saudia Arabia and Russia, one of the world’s climate criminals.

Meanwhile, the European Union is putting the pieces together for its proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) that will target imports from climate criminal states like Australia. The proposal emerged from the European Commission’s Green New Deal policy in December 2019, with the EC saying it would, after consultations were completed, develop it as a legislative proposal for this year.

The European Parliament’s environment committee then took up the issue and prepared a paper “Towards a WTO-compatible EU carbon border adjustment mechanism”. That was adopted by the EU parliament in March. The CBAM is the first on the European Commission’s legislative to-do list for 2021, as part of its preparations for meeting the EU’s 55% target.

That’s despite the Biden administration urging the Europeans to back away from a CBAM and to leave it as a “last resort”. External critics who complain about the CBAM don’t understand, or ignore, the basic political reality facing EU governments: none of them are prepared to lose jobs as a result of competitor countries having lower climate action targets than Europe. No one wants to go through what Emmanuel Macron went through with the gilets jaunes movement which, before it was hijacked by anti-Semites and extremists, began as a protest against higher fuel taxes.

Australia’s €8 billion in exports to the EU will thus likely be subject a mechanism intended to ensure European workers don’t pay the price from Australia’s reckless indifference to climate change. It will likely involve the imposition of the EU’s existing carbon price on imports based on their emissions intensity.

The EU carbon price this week reached €45 a tonne; that will increase significantly in coming years to address the more ambitious 55% target. Before this week’s record high, the price was already forecast to increase to nearly €90 a tonne over the next nine years.

It’s an apt demonstration of the reality that faces Australia, whatever delusions the Morrison government and its media stenographers might try to convince us of.

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