Morrison to feel the heat as U.S. turns to clean energy future

The election of Joe Biden as U.S. president is set to heap further pressure on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to lay out a clear and firm strategy charting the nation’s transition to a clean energy future.

Biden’s election heralds a dramatic change in the direction of U.S. climate and energy policy. He has already recommitted to the Paris Agreement and set a 2050 zero emissions target and has promised an unprecedented program of clean energy spending.

The President Elect’s commitment to a clean energy future[2] is expected to have major implications for Morrison with the Biden agenda tipped to increase the pressure on Australia, and other countries, to play their part.

Morrison however remains devoted to a gas-fired future[3] and has repeatedly refused to commit to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, declaring the government’s plan is to achieve net zero emissions “in the second half of this century”.

Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, said Australia’s noncommittal approach will no longer be good enough with Biden in office.

Jotzo said there will now be an expectation that Australia adjusts its energy policy, adding that the current stance is “not going to cut it with any other government or country that takes climate change seriously”.

“The pressure is coming,” Jotzo said on Friday during a webinar hosted by the Clean Energy Council. “We will be asked to take a stronger stand. We will be asked to actually come up with a strategy for long-term lower emissions.

“There’s a massive gap in terms of policy between Federal Government and want we expect of the Biden administration. And importantly there’s a massive gap in rhetoric and it cannot stay that way.”

Biden’s commitment to a clean energy future means that for the first time, all members of the G7 are committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 while China recently announced its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Australia’s biggest coal export markets have committed to renewables.

Image: Flickr/Jeremy Buckingham

Market to drive changes

Bob Carr, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the widespread adoption of emissions reduction targets would undoubtedly have big implications for Australia, the world’s second-biggest producer of thermal coal, 80% of which is exported.

“Things are happening in a rush and Biden’s election is a massive part of it but don’t forget Japan less than a month ago, under its new prime minister, made that big commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, and China in September made the commitment to net zero emissions by 2060,” he said.

Australia’s biggest customers for coal[4] –  Japan, South Korea and China – are saying we’ve really embraced this transition and are moving beyond generating power by burning carbon. Even India … is going full pelt in its embrace of renewables.

“This is a climate where the government would look absurd if it said we are going to subsidise gas field development, gas pipelines. Biden has never once spoken about gas as a transition fuel in the US.”

Australia’s approach criticised

Carr’s comments follow the release on Thursday of the 2020 Climate Transparency Report[5] which is damning of Australia’s approach to climate change, finding it remained one of the largest users and producers of fossil fuels.

The annual report analyses G20 countries’ performance across 100 indicators of climate adaptation, mitigation and finance and also identifies critical differences in how governments are responding to the decarbonisation challenge.

The report reveals Australia has the highest share of fossil fuel in its energy mix, making up 93% of total energy used. The share of renewables in the energy supply is just 4.7%, well below the G20 average of 6.4% and Australia and India are the only two members of the G20 with no carbon-pricing scheme, nor plans to implement one.

Australia’s greenhouse emissions per capita are three times the G20 average, and it ranks fourth highest for economic losses from increasing climate impacts, such as bushfires.

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, a Climate Transparency partner organisation, said the  report highlights just how poorly Australia is doing.

“Australia has its head in the sand when it comes to climate change,” he said. “While the rest of the world is rapidly moving towards cheap and green renewable energy, Australia continues to have one of the highest shares of fossil fuel use in the G20.

“The cold hard facts show that our record is absolutely abysmal compared to most other countries in this report. Australia is simultaneously one of the most exposed G20 countries to climate change but also one of the greatest contributors per capita. This has to change.”

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  1. ^ Posts by David Carroll (
  2. ^ commitment to a clean energy future (
  3. ^ devoted to a gas-fired future (
  4. ^ Australia’s biggest customers for coal (
  5. ^ 2020 Climate Transparency Report (
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