The time has come for Morrison to act on climate change | Hewson's View

INACTION: John Hewson says that Scott Morrison is obsessed with short-term politics when it comes to climate policy.

INACTION: John Hewson says that Scott Morrison is obsessed with short-term politics when it comes to climate policy.

Surely, it can only be a matter of time before Scott Morrison responds to the mounting global, business, institutional, civil society, and voter pressure to listen to the science and adopt a responsible climate policy?

His intransigence is immoral, especially in stealing from future generations, ignorant, and is seriously squandering a host of opportunities for sustainable growth, investment and jobs as the basis for an effective recovery from the most challenging economic and social circumstances since at least the Great Depression.

Globally, the Biden Presidency will be a game changer, with the United States taking a leadership role on climate transition, encouraging competitive responses from many others, especially the UK, Europe, China and Japan, in the run-up to COP 26 in Glasgow late next year.

The Paris Accord will finally be getting some real substance, and the world finally recognising the imperative of urgent emissions reductions in power, transport, agriculture, industrial processes, and so on, right across all economic sectors.

Australia is already designated a "laggard" in terms of our climate responses, which is to our national embarrassment and shame, especially when it is recognised that while we are a small direct emitter, we rank in the top five or six globally when account is taken of our position as near the largest exporter of fossil fuels, coal and LNG, and with our enviable endowments of solar and wind assets, enabling technologies, and potential to be a global leader.

Against this reality, Morrison's responses in recent days have been cringe-worthy.

He has arrogantly "welcomed" the prospect of the US "joining" us as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, and committing to a 2030 target for emissions reductions, downplaying Biden's promised 2050 target of net zero, and ignoring that our 2030 target is seen globally as "weak" - being only about half what was recommended by the Climate Change Authority.

As too Morrison's boast that we always meet our targets, and that we will achieve the 2030 target "in a canter". This is only possible if he cheats, relying on the globally rejected practice of carrying forward Kyoto credits, rather than by genuine emissions reductions.

Morrison is obsessed with short-term politics, and is reliant on prejudice and slogans rather than genuine, evidence-based policy.

He prefers to attempt to "wedge" Albanese and the Opposition, given their Fitzgibbon-driven split on climate, rather than lead in our national interest - just another round of the counterproductive "climate wars" rather than to deliver responsible government.

Morrison and his colleagues are now running hard on the "fiction" that to do any more on climate would "trash" our economy, costing jobs and growth.

In the same vein, they are "warning" states such as NSW not to accelerate the closure of coal and gas-fired power stations, citing the impacts of the South Australian closure of Northern and Victoria's closure of Hazelwood as examples of the likely consequences for power prices.

This is a continuation of the Howard nonsense that any climate response "must cost jobs and growth", ignoring all of the new businesses, industries, investment and jobs that would be created by an early and effective transition to a low carbon Australia.

It also ignores the very substantial costs and disruption of inaction recently estimated by Deloitte.

This sort of scaremongering should have no place in a sensible and responsible discussion.

The challenge and opportunity is to think and plan strategically and longer-term.

It's a question of management, to develop pathways and timetables for effective and fair transitions sector by sector - power to renewables, electrification of the vehicle fleet, regenerative agriculture, genuinely "green" building codes, emissions reductions in heavy industrial processes, and so on.

The global reality is that some 20 countries now have net-zero emissions reduction targets (zero in 2006); 120 are working on some form of carbon neutrality; 300 major global companies are committed to carbon neutrality by 2050; some 200 institutional investors managing US$29 trillion in assets are pushing US greenhouse gas emitters to disclose their plans to limit global warming.

Climate tech is booming, as is climate related finance.

Australia is being left out and behind at an accelerating and alarming pace.

This will certainly constrain, if not "trash", our economy.

Yet the Morrison government's only Trumpian response is to mislead and obfuscate with their "fake news" and meaningless slogans, in the hope of retaining government.

Australia deserves better, especially our children.

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