Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack and senior Victorian MP Darren Chester are urging party colleagues to back greater climate action to ensure Australia can remain relevant on the international stage.
Their comments on Saturday came after Australia and its Quad partners said they would announce ambitious emission reductions ahead of the UN Climate talks in Glasgow in November.
In a joint communique released after the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meetings wrapped up on Saturday, Australia and its partners - the US, India and Japan - said they “intend to update or communicate ambitious NDCs by COP26 .” Nationally determined contributions are a country’s pledge through the United Nations on how fast and by much they will reduce emissions.
Mr McCormack said Australia should go to the Glasgow summit with a position locked in on net zero emissions to prove it was “a serious player and deserved to be around the table”.
But he said the target must not hurt regional Australia – a similar position to that voiced by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Friday.
“If we can find a pathway to ensuring that we have net zero by 2050, which is not going to affect jobs in regional Australia, which is not going to push power prices through the roof, then I think that would be a really good position to take to Glasgow,” Mr McCormack said on Saturday.
“We need to be able to go to that forum in a position of strength. We need to be able to say we’re playing our part.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia will reach net zero as soon as possible, “preferably” by 2050, but he needs agreement from the Nationals to lodge a binding commitment to upgrade Australia’s climate commitment at the COP26 climate summit in November.
Mr Morrison said Australia is on track to “meet and beat” its 2030 Paris target, and the government would release updated projections before the Glasgow summit, which are expected to forecast that Australia’s emissions will fall below its 26 per cent target. But it remains to be seen if the government goes a step further and makes a binding commitment.
Mr Joyce has maintained the party will not endorse a new climate policy without knowing how the contribution of traditional regional industries such as coal and agriculture would be replaced.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, a Liberal, said there had been high level internal discussions within the government about a pathway to net zero, saying any plan must look after important sectors such as agriculture.
“There are serious issues that we need to look at and address as part of our commitment – or any commitment – that we make. For instance, we’ve got to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our agricultural sector,” he said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this week backed a net zero commitment by 2050, warning Australia would pay an economic cost if it did not match other major nations in committing to the goal.
Mr Chester, who was dumped from cabinet in a reshuffle when Mr Joyce seized the leadership, said there was enough support in the Nationals partyroom to reach a deal with the Liberals on emissions targets.
“If we want a future as a political party we have to have credible polices on the environment, including climate change, and that’s what I’m working to achieve with my colleagues,” he said.
“The majority of the Nationals partyroom would fully accept the science around climate change and recognise that regional communities can play an important role in reducing our emissions. There are a handful who don’t believe we should do anything, but they are becoming increasingly irrelevant in regional Australia.”
He said there needed to be a plan outlining what measures would be required to reach net zero by 2050.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the Australian people to commit to something until you tell them how you’re going to do it. You’ve got to have a pathway,” Mr Chester said.
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