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Two Liberal MPs urge Morrison to set 2050 net zero target before UN climate conference | Environment

Two Liberal backbenchers have called on Scott Morrison to set the long-mooted climate target of net zero emissions by 2050 before a major UN conference in November, and to restore funding and advisory powers to the Climate Change Authority.

Trent Zimmerman, the member for North Sydney, and Bridget Archer, the member for Bass in northern Tasmania, made the call in a joint response to an inquiry into climate change legislation proposed by the independent MP Zali Steggall.

The Coalition-led energy and environment committee rejected the legislation, which would enshrine a 2050 net zero target and require the government to set a rolling emissions budget to meet it. It would also establish a powerful independent climate change commission and incorporate the government’s technology investment roadmap.

Steggall said government MPs had refused her bills – based in part on British climate legislation – despite them receiving support from leaders in business, the environment, science, health and unions, and the backing of more than 99% of submissions to the inquiry.

“Never has a Liberal government been so out of step with the Australian business and investment community on a key issue as the current government led by Scott Morrison,” she said.

Zimmerman and Archer supported the central finding of the committee to reject Steggall’s bills. They argued the legislation would “overstep the mark in trying to limit the normal capacity of the elected government of the day to develop and determine policy on how Australia can best reduce its emissions”.

In additional comments in the committee report, the pair called for the net zero 2050 target to be included in a long-term emissions reduction strategy due to be released by the Morrison government before the climate summit in Glasgow, Cop26.

They said the strategy should also include commitments to develop decade-long emissions budgets for the Australian economy for the period to 2050, with reviews to be held every five years, and regular climate change adaptation plans and risk assessments.

Zimmerman and Archer said the Climate Change Authority, which has had its funding slashed since the Coalition was elected in 2013, should be given greater resources and an enhanced role in advising on emissions reduction strategies. The transformation to a net zero economy was “not only the right thing to do” but would present significant new economic opportunities for Australia, the pair said.

“Unless we are part of the international conversation on this we will miss the chance Australia has to develop its own low-emissions technology,” Zimmerman told Guardian Australia.

Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer with Scott Morrison at a press conference in Launceston. Archer has called on Morrison to set stronger climate targets. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The Morrison government has come under sustained pressure from international allies to increase its climate commitments. More than 100 countries had set targets to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and all members of the G7 have significantly increased their commitments to cut emissions by 2030.

Morrison has only said that he wants Australia to reach net zero “preferably by 2050”, and has resisted a push by Britain, the EU and US for countries to ramp up action immediately in line with what scientists say is necessary to avoid a worsening climate crisis. Several Nationals MPs have been vocal in their opposition to the government setting a net zero target.

Steggall’s private member’s bill, which was announced in February last year but delayed due to Covid-19, has been supported by crossbenchers Rebekha Sharkie, Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie and the Greens, and backed by climate scientists and economists and more than 100 businesses and organisations. The Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott described it as “sensible”.

Labor MPs said Steggall’s bills should be debated in parliament but did not commit to supporting them if they were.

In a joint statement, Labor’s climate spokesman Chris Bowen and committee members Josh Wilson and Josh Burns said the Coalition MPs had recommended the government “shut down debate” on Steggall’s climate bills. They said Zimmerman and Archer’s comments “at the back of the report” were cynical.

“These so-called modern Liberals can pretend they’re interested in climate change, but their actions in the parliament speak louder than words,” the Labor MPs said.

Steggall said the response by Coalition MPs on the committee should “be a wake-up call to all electorates who have Liberal MPs who say they support action on climate change but don’t deliver anything”.

“MPs like Trent Zimmerman should be embarrassed by their own government’s failure to act on climate change. They are looking for excuses not to support the approach proposed in the bills and the recommendations,” she said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said Steggall’s bills should be debated and MPs be given a conscience vote. It would allow Coalition members who wanted greater action on climate to support them.

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