Could Biden Make Scott Morrison Act On Climate Change?

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

With President-elect Joe Biden heading to the White House in a couple of months, Australia is under more pressure than ever to take serious climate action.

But with a prime minister who insists on sticking to fossil fuels and who’s refused to set any clear climate targets, is the government really going to turn around on climate change?

Biden Highlights Australia’s Failing Climate Policies

Biden’s plans to tackle climate change put Australia in a pretty awkward position.

Our federal climate policy is trailing way, way behind other G20 nations and it’s being described as straight-up ‘embarrassing’ by the experts.

Within the G20 nations, Australia is one of two countries that hasn’t put a price on carbon pollution for industries.

We’re also one of only four countries without a national policy for renewable energy, and we currently rank last in cutting greenhouse gas emissions for transport.

There are now so many eyes on the government to deliver strong climate change action plans – particularly in the wake of the last bushfire season, given that the Royal Commission looking into the fires outlined how climate change was behind them.

But Scott Morrison has still refused to set any net-zero emissions targets.

He’s held fast even though countries like China, Japan, Britain, New Zealand, France and South Korea have all set their dates for a zero-emissions economy.

Meanwhile, climate change is going to be one of the top priorities for the Biden administration.

He’s already raised the issue in all of his calls with global leaders; he’s pledged that the US will recommit to the Paris Agreement; and he’s said that his administration will set a plan to get the country’s electricity emissions to zero by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

So could the new president have any influence on Scott Morrison?

Will Scott Morrison Change His Stance?

Amanda McKenzie: “If we look back at the Obama presidency, Obama did put a bunch of pressure on Australia – including speaking in Queensland about the reef – which the Australian Government really didn’t want at the time.”

That’s Amanda McKenzie and she seems really confident that having Biden in office will kind of turn the screws on the PM.

After all, it was Obama’s pressuring that made sure Australia entered the Paris Climate Agreement with strong emissions targets in 2015.

AM: “I think Scott Morrison is a pragmatist at heart. So he doesn’t want to be forced into a decision and I think we’ve seen that in his reaction to a net-zero target. But on the other hand, he will do something if it’s going to mean he’ll win votes from it, or if it’s too politically painful not to.”

Amanda told me that even if Morrison doesn’t budge, Biden’s presidency is going to have a really broad influence on climate change policy internationally.

AM: “I think Biden will embolden a whole range of actors around the world … the impact will be this ripple effect, sort of like the rock in the pond, of such a prominent person globally saying ,‘I’m taking this really seriously, I’m going to do more, we all need to step up’.”

That means that state and local governments as well as businesses could just take their own cue from the US and take climate action independently.

In fact, that’s already kind of been happening.

In NSW, the Liberal Energy Minister Matt Kean launched a 32 billion dollar renewable energy plan and the Andrews Government in Victoria has launched a 790 million dollar clean energy program.

Both of these plans went ahead independently of the federal government.

AM: “I think that’s how we get the level of action required on climate change. It’s not just top down from federal governments and from global agreements, it’s from every actor across society doing things. And state governments and local governments are proving up policies and projects as we speak, that will be just hard to ignore for the federal government.”

The Takeaway 

Australia is being left behind in the dust, in terms of climate policy. But the Biden presidency could have a huge impact and hopefully, put enough pressure on the federal government to make clear zero-emissions targets.

But then again even if that doesn’t happen, the US is going to have massive global influence either way – so we may not have to wait for Scott Morrison to change his mind to see sweeping climate action here.