Regional Australia is leading the charge in tackling climate change, according to a Nationals backbencher who says he's frustrated his party has been portrayed as a "bunch of rednecks" and "dinosaurs" amid the net-zero debate.
Parkes MP Mark Coulton is among the Nationals open to supporting an emissions-reduction target of net zero by 2050 ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow this November.
But Mr Coulton insists the party should not rush into a commitment simply to "prove our virtue" on the international stage, stressing that while his constituents might support the transition, they do have legitimate concerns about the cost.
With five weeks to go until the summit in Glasgow, Mr Coulton and his Nationals colleagues are waiting to see a plan from Prime Minister Scott Morrison before agreeing to any new climate targets.
The Morrison government is facing domestic and international pressure ahead of Glasgow to make a net-zero-by-2050 commitment, and to increase the country's 2030 target.
The pressure intensified on Tuesday after the NSW Liberal-National government announced a plan to halve emissions by 50 per cent below 2005 levels - almost double the ambition of the federal target.
Mr Morrison is also facing pressure as he weighs up whether to attend the UN summit in person, with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull saying a Glasgow no-show would send a message to the world that climate action wasn't a priority for his government.
The federal Nationals party room remains split on net zero.
Some members, like Queensland senator Matt Canavan, are opposed to a commitment of net zero by 2050, while others, including Michael McCormack, Damian Drum and Mr Coulton, have said they are open to a target provided regional jobs are protected.
Mr Coulton's seat of Parkes is the largest in NSW, stretching to the Queensland border in the north and down to South Australia in the west.
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The former minister said the communities dotted around his electorate were "ahead of the game" when it came to cutting emissions and responding to climate change.
Mr Coulton highlighted the government-backed investment in renewable energy projects, the huge uptake of rooftop solar in towns such as Dubbo, and various farming techniques.
But Mr Coulton said he was frustrated that the transition already under way in regional Australia was being overlooked, including by the media.
He said the Nationals were being portrayed as "dinosaurs" who were "dragging their feet" and didn't care about global warming, often by people and politicians in metropolitan areas who weren't making any effort to change their behaviour.
He argued the climate action achievements in regional electorates were being largely ignored by the national media, who instead ran stories which portrayed the Nationals as a "bunch of rednecks who the Liberals had to wrangle".
"I agree that we need to go to Glasgow with a position that is acceptable," he told The Canberra Times.
"I'm just a little frustrated that we are being asked to show our virtue by saying we want to do this, we want to be net-zero emissions by 2050, but without any conversation about how that is going to happen."
Mr Coulton said regional communities "lived climate change" and didn't need to be lectured about its implications. But he said his constituents were concerned about cost of the transition, including the possibility of higher energy prices if fossil fuels were phased out without a ready-made replacement.
He said that for many people in his sprawling electorate, the switch to electric vehicles - seen as one of the keys to reaching net zero - was either too expensive or impractical.
"I'm [more] worried about my less wealthy people than I am about the big end of town, quite frankly," he said.
Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham on Tuesday said he was confident Australia would take a "very strong position" to Glasgow, but refused to say if that would include a commitment of net zero by 2050.
Labor's climate and energy spokesman, Chris Bowen, said the Morrison government was "divided and dysfunctional" when it came to the pressing issue of climate action.
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