Australia must commit to net-zero emissions, influential Conservative warns


London: Former British Conservative Party leader William Hague has called on Scott Morrison to end Australia's climate wars and adopt a net-zero carbon emissions target ahead the United Nations climate change conference to be held in Glasgow this November.

Lord Hague, also Britain's former Foreign Secretary, was highly critical of the Australian government's approach to climate policy and called on climate denialists within conservative ranks that the science was accepted and settled.

He said leaving the issue of climate change to left-wing politicians would result in responses that were socialist, rather than driven by technology or market forces. The coalition should also consider carbon pricing as a way of curbing emissions.

The Australian Labor Party last week adopted a net-zero target, without saying what mechanisms would be used to curb carbon emissions. This prompted a scathing attack from Morrison who said in Parliament this week: "I'm not going to put a tax on them to get emissions down."

But speaking exclusively to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age at Australia House in London, as president of the Britain-Australia Society, Lord Hague rejected the idea that Australia's reliance on fossil fuels meant it could not achieve the same 2050 net-zero target adopted by the Tories in the UK.

"Absolutely, it's more difficult but [Australia] is a technologically advanced society and its really in the fulcrum of the consequences of climate change," he said.

"Climate change consequences are: increased drought, higher temperatures, rising sea levels. Well, all of that hits Australia."

He said the summer's bushfires had "affected the British people deeply" due to the "common sense of pain" shared between the two countries. Hague said preserving the environment was the natural position of the centre-right to take and warned Australia's coalition MPs against leaving climate change mitigation up to the left.

"I'm a blue-green, a green-blue, whatever, to me, they go naturally together. If you believe in conserving the best in life that has to include the natural world, which is endangered," he said.

"If you leave this argument to the left, their solutions will be very socialistic about high taxation, about regulation," he said.

Hague said these would not work because you could not "command people to be poorer."

He said, in contrast, the centre-right should be supporting technology and innovation. He explicitly backed carbon-pricing, which has a no-go policy for both Australia's major parties since Julia Gillard's failed carbon tax.

Then treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal in Parliament in February 2017.

Then treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal in Parliament in February 2017.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

"That's what we're trying to do in the UK and so it's really important for politicians of the centre-right to be presenting their ideas on the subject that's coming anyway."

Hague has previously warned of a citizen uprising if politicians fail to address the community's demands for climate action.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who famously carried a lump of coal into the parliament to taunt his Labor opponents, is resisting pressure to adopt the target announced by the Labor opposition last week, saying it is the "same bill" Australia couldn't afford at the last election when the Opposition proposed cutting emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. The "bill" comment was a reference to the Liberals' campaign slogan targeting then-Labor leader Bill Shorten.

Former Conservative leader and President of the Britain-Australia Society William Hague speaking at Australia House.

Former Conservative leader and President of the Britain-Australia Society William Hague speaking at Australia House.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack went further, saying the net-zero pledge would "ruin the resources sector".

"It's a tax on farms, it's a tax on transport, it's a tax on the check-out and it's a tax on Australians trying to work hard and make ends meet," he said.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull failed in his continued campaign against climate sceptics and advocates of inaction in his former partyroom.

They also align with many in the business sector and state governments who have all pledged net-zero emissions by 2050. In recent weeks, resources companies BP and Rio Tinto have also individually pledged to be carbon neutral by the middle of the century.