For anyone hoping the latest international report on climate change would jolt Australia into action, the ensuing response from the nation's leaders would have been deflating.
From Prime Minister Scott Morrison, there was defensiveness and attempts at back pedalling. He promised the government would not disadvantage regional Australia with more ambitious emissions targets, as if decarbonising the economy was a zero sum game in which the regions could only lose.
While Mr Morrison engaged in obfuscation, his Deputy Prime Minister indulged in plain confusion. Barnaby Joyce, forgetting he was a senior member of a government that had been in power eight years, on radio said the Nationals won't support a net-zero by 2050 climate target until it sees a plan. In the same interview, he said the government was not working on such a plan.
All the while, a global climate summit in Glasgow is months away and, judging by recent meetings of the world's richest and most influential economies, it is far from a certainty nations will reach a meaningful agreement to prevent the worst scenarios outlined this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It's a disheartening reminder of the challenges ahead. In reckoning with climate change, a problem that seems overwhelming and beset with political paralysis, it's easy to slip into inaction.
The IPCC's report shows that's not really an option. Fortunately for Australia, there are some clear solutions. A lot of hard work has already gone into thinking up viable ways to survive and thrive as the world economy decarbonises.
Mr Morrison is wrong to frame regions as absolute victims of climate action. It ignores the potential for regional Australia to benefit from renewable energy industries.
Ross Garnaut has argued persuasively that regional Australians, including those in coal mining regions, could be the biggest beneficiaries of Australia's transition to renewable energy generation.
The capacity to generate cheaper electricity could open the way to more jobs and higher incomes, disproportionately concentrated on towns like Newcastle, Gladstone, Portland, Whyalla and Port Augusta, he says. It was Whyalla that Tony Abbott once made the subject of a Chicken Little warning about climate action, saying a carbon price would wipe the South Australian industrial town "off the map".
In the decade since, it's remarkable how little has changed in Australia's climate debate. Labor introduced a carbon price, the Coalition repealed it. Climate policy has helped end nearly every prime ministership since 2007.
No wonder Mr Morrison treads so cautiously. But he doesn't have to be so negative, unambitious, and frankly, unimaginative. The Biden administration, which has successfully landed a major infrastructure package, has shown how governments can harness a crisis for economic change. The Coalition has presented no such vision for Australia's post-Covid, post-climate change economy.
The Nationals are dragging their weight inside the Coalition on the climate solution of net zero emissions by 2050. It seems beyond Mr Joyce to grasp the potential benefits and opportunities for regional Australians of transitioning from carbon. Other MPs representing regional areas, such as Helen Haines, are increasingly filling that leadership void with proposals for climate action that will benefit the regions.
The more they do, the less Mr Morrison and the Nationals can pretend to be the champions for the regions in making Australia an international laggard on climate change.
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