March 01, 2020 06:22:03
Let’s be clear from the outset: COVID-19 and climate change are two very different things. The coronavirus and global warming pose very different threats over very different timeframes.
Still, it’s worth comparing the Prime Minister’s language this week as he explained the Government’s response to these two global problems.
See if you can pick which threat Scott Morrison is talking about here.
“We have always acted with an abundance of caution on this issue and that has put Australia in the strong position we are in.”
“What we’re doing is staying ahead. We got ahead of it originally by acting quickly. We’re staying ahead.”
“Australia is in the best-placed position to be prepared for this than anywhere else and so we just want to make sure it stays that way.”
You guessed it (and sorry, there is no prize) — the Prime Minister is talking about the virus, not the warming planet.
On climate change, the language is different
On this potential pandemic, the Government is listening to the scientific experts and responding with abundant caution. As it should.
On climate change, the language is, well, very different.
There is little chance of Australia being ahead of the pack with its actions to tackle this problem.
The Prime Minister says it’s “reckless” to sign up to a net-zero emissions target without details of what it might cost.
Instead of “abundant caution” we get “proportional action”. Some within the Government even question whether scientists are overstating the problem.
Difficult decisions will need to be made
The Government has so far handled the coronavirus crisis well. State and federal medical authorities are in constant contact. The public is being regularly updated on developments.
Treasury is working on plans to help those sectors of the economy hit the hardest, including universities, tourism operators and seafood exporters.
The more politically difficult decisions may well be yet to come if school closures, further travel restrictions and the cancellation of sporting events are required.
If such measures are adopted and daily life for millions of Australians is genuinely disrupted, there will be a degree of panic in the community.
Difficult decisions will also be required on the budget. No-one really knows how far the global economy is going to grind down as this virus spreads.
The vanishing surplus may be the least of the Government’s worries if the Australian economy heads into negative territory and thousands of jobs are lost.
Both challenges require genuine leadership
When it comes to climate change, the risks are well known and widespread, from the environment to health, infrastructure and the economy.
The Government will unveil more details over the coming week of its latest attempt at a climate strategy.
The long-awaited technology roadmap will aim to incentivise private investment in hydrogen, lithium, and carbon capture and storage.
Maybe these technologies will provide the low-emissions breakthrough the world has been waiting for. Maybe they won’t.
In the meantime, there won’t be any move away from coal.
In fact, the Government is simultaneously funding a feasibility study into a new coal plant in Queensland. This is unlikely to feature even in the fine-print of the technology roadmap.
Climate change and the coronavirus are indeed very different challenges, but both require genuine leadership from the Australian Prime Minister.
One, however, is proving far more politically difficult to tackle.
David Speers is the host of Insiders, which airs on ABC TV at 9:00am on Sunday or on iView.