Australia gives in-principle support for net zero by 2050

Rod McGuirk
Associated Press

Canberra, Australia — Australia’s Cabinet on Monday will consider conditions the government’s junior coalition partner has placed on committing the national to a target of zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

The Nationals party’s in-principle support for the target, agreed at a meeting on Sunday, is a breakthrough for Prime Minister Scott Morrison who wants to take a more ambitious plan to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions when he leaves on Thursday for a U.N. summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Nationals lawmakers were tight-lipped on the conditions the party had placed on their support.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is also deputy prime minister, declined to say whether the party had demanded that Resources Minister Keith Pitt be made the fifth Nationals’ Cabinet minister.

Joyce also declined to confirm or deny that he had told his colleagues he opposed net zero.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, listens to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during question time in Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday.

“We never would have had to go into the negotiation process if the Nationals were 100% happy with where the proposition was,” Joyce told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud said further details of the agreement would be made public by early Tuesday.

“We worked through this calmly and rationally as a party,” Littleproud said, adding that the Nationals' amendments to the Cabinet proposal would protect jobs in rural Australia.

Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas. The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.

The rural-based Nationals have traditionally represented farmers’ interests, but are increasingly now seen as advocates for fossil fuel industries.

Nationals Sen. Matt Canavan, who represents coal-rich Queensland state, said the deal was bad for the country.

“Net zero is going to end in tears,” Canavan told the Nine Network television.

“I don’t think this is the right approach for this country. It’s a fantasy to think we can remove all carbon emissions,” Canavan added.

Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at a Paris climate summit to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030, despite many countries adopting far more ambitious targets.

The Glasgow summit, known as COP26, will assess progress since nations agreed in the Paris accord to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The meeting in Glasgow is widely seen as the last chance to hold global warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels.