Liberal Andrew Bragg urges Scott Morrison to commit to net zero

By Katharine Murphy Political editor
A coal truck at a mine in Muswellbrook in the NSW Hunter Valley
A truck at a coalmine in Muswellbrook in the NSW Hunter Valley. ‘It is quite clear that we should be looking to commit to net zero,’ Liberal Andrew Bragg says of Australia’s climate ambitions. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

The Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has urged Scott Morrison to commit to net zero emissions at the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow as the Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, has warned that the test for whether or not the junior Coalition partner signs up will be the impact on jobs “in Muswellbrook”.

Bragg, who has just become the chair of the Senate standing committee on environment and communications, told Guardian Australia on Monday: “It is quite clear that we should be looking to commit to net zero.”

While arguing it was “entirely valid” that the government did the policy work to show how the commitment would be met, Bragg declared net zero “a target we need to have”.

“There is a lot of heavy lifting that can be done in the cities in terms of electric vehicles and also energy – two of the big areas with our emissions profile.”

He said he did not have a position on whether the government should increase the ambition of the 2030 emissions reduction target as well as locking in on 2050 in Glasgow.

“The longer term is the most important position because that underpins a permanent management plan for climate change,” Bragg said.

“Environmental risk is like any other economic risk, it needs to be managed, which is why I have always been attracted to the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) framework, which is a way of making these risks measurable and folding them into an economic paradigm.

“There is a lot of good work out there on the table from places like the Grattan Institute, and I’m keen we work through all the opportunities to get our emissions down. This is a critical issue.”

Bragg’s call comes as the government is continuing to work through policy options before the Glasgow conference. Morrison says he wants Australia to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050 – but he has not specified whether Australia will make a formal commitment in November at Cop26.

Liberal moderates in metropolitan seats are now strongly of the view that it is politically untenable for the government to resist making a formal commitment to net zero. But Nationals championing fossil fuels in regional areas have signalled that they are strongly opposed to the government making that commitment.

While Australia has faced sustained diplomatic pressure from key allies including the US and the UK to increase its level of climate policy ambition, it was revealed last week that the British government had removed references to the temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement from a prospective trade deal with Australia because the Morrison government sought their removal.

Morrison confirmed last week that the government had opposed including the Paris agreement’s specific temperature goals because the deal was meant to be “about trade”.

During an interview with the ABC on Monday, the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, acknowledged that “certain ideas” had been brought to him during internal discussions.

But he didn’t intend to share proposals publicly: “I wouldn’t be announcing it on radio.”

Joyce also attempted to reassure his party room its members would determine the final position. “We will be making sure as ideas come forward, as qualified scientists put to the prime minister their views about how they would go forward, those views will be taken back to members of the National party room, and they can have their deliberations.”

He said he was not looking to extract new commitments on grants programs or infrastructure projects from the prime minister and the only test he was interested in was the impact of any policy decision on regional jobs.

The Nationals have been eyeing federal seats in the Hunter Valley. The Labor veteran Joel Fitzgibbon has confirmed he intends to retire at the next federal election.

Joyce said on Monday that the Hunter – a coalmining region – was in his party’s sights.

“If I go to Muswellbrook, where Joel Fitzgibbon has retired from, and we will stand in, and say to the people there, this is our belief about what will happen to your job, and this is why we are going in to bat to make sure you keep your job, up against Kristina Keneally, she now has an open seat, she can come up to the Hunter, she doesn’t have to stand in Fowler any more, it’s an open seat, Kristina, up you go to the Hunter … we can have the debate there with the people of Muswellbrook, the people of Singleton and the people in the Hunter Valley, about which plan is most likely to keep them in a job.

“That’s what I am looking to, not some price tag for some piece of infrastructure.”

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