How the heck can this still be happening?

It’s 2021 and we have a government within sight of an election with no policy on climate change that endeavours to reach net zero emissions, and the National party has just re-elected as its leader Barnaby Joyce, whose main policy position appears to be to ensure such a target is never set.

Climate change denial continues to be the strongest force in Australian politics.

Instead of a target we have, as foreign affairs minister Marise Payne articulated so circuitously last week on Insiders, a “broad position of the Australian government that we want to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050”.

That is a shift from their once saying they wanted to achieve it in the second half of this century – that’s what counts as progress in this country.

The whispers continue that the government is trying to come up with an actual target, but I am not Charlie Brown, so I’ll let others try to kick Lucy’s football.

At no point has this government done anything to make net-zero emissions achievable, let alone acknowledge that 2050 will be too late to limit temperatures to rising 2C above pre-industrial levels.

To be fair, there is no pressure on them to acknowledge this, given the Labor party is stuck on 2050, and most of the media also think it is some magical timeframe that will solve all climate change ills.

It’s rather apt, given the past 30 years, that governments around the world have finally settled on an emissions target that is sold as being wonderful and yet is manifestly inadequate.

I guess this is “the good” that should not be the enemy of the perfect.

Even more apt is that this inadequate target remains well beyond the scope of the Morrison government, especially now Joyce is back.

Inadequate is not enough.

It might be easy to forget, during a cold winter, or even as we exit a La Niña period, that the world continues to warm.

Over the past 50 years temperatures have risen within an ever-rising 0.3C range.

If you can’t view the graph click here

The problem is that while we are currently experiencing lower temperatures, they are lower only relative to the most recent El Niño period.

Over the past year global surface temperatures have been 1.1C above the average of the last part of the 1800s. That is below the record of 1.3C set in 2016, but is still warmer than any time before December 2015.

It’s not just that the hot years are getting hotter; the “cold” years are less cold.

It’s not just that the policy is inadequate, it is that the Morrison government continues to hope it will skate by on such a policy with no consequences.

Clearly it has been caught unawares by the tide of global opinion moving against our inadequacies.

We already have the EU and the G7 musing about carbon tariffs that almost seem designed with Australia in mind, and then this week came the news that Unesco has recommended the Great Barrier Reef world heritage site be listed as “in danger”.

Both these aspects highlight that climate change policy is actually economic policy. And you need to act right now – not in or “preferably by” 2050.

Environment minister Sussan Ley – the same person who in 2019 went for a snorkel on the reef and declared it “vibrant” – instead blamed Unesco’s processes and argued that it blindsided the Australian government – a charge Unesco strenuously disagrees with.

It is odd, however, that this could be a shock to anyone, given Graham Readfearn reported earlier this month that such a listing was very much on the cards, and the government’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had listed the reef as “very poor” back in 2019.

This decision not only points to our lack of action on climate change but also the Morrison government’s complete diplomatic failure.

Failure and inadequacy – the hallmarks of this government’s climate change policy since 2013.

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