Australia is risking international embarrassment this week at Joe Biden’s climate summit. While our international partners get on with the work of transitioning to a zero-carbon economy, Scott Morrison and his government prevaricate, delay, and make excuses for their inaction.
One of their excuses is the much-peddled fiction that ‘climate action costs jobs’. But it’s more complex than that. Other nations, the USA included, are working to ensure their efforts at decarbonisation not only preserve people’s livelihoods but improve them.
The rest of world is ramping up its ambitions. On the eve of the summit, the EU pledged legally binding targets of a 55 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. The UK is now aiming for a 78 per cent reduction by 2035. China, which was already planning for carbon neutrality by 2060, has set aside political tensions with the USA to sign a joint statement, the world’s two biggest economies undertaking to work together to reduce carbon emissions.
With the summit marking America’s re-entry to the global stage on climate, Biden himself has announced a target of a 50-52 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
Australia? Well, Scott Morrison has a ‘preference’ for net zero emissions by 2050 but has refused to set targets let alone legislate them, telling the National Press Club in February “when I can tell you how we get there, that’s when I’ll tell you when we’re going to get there”.
Morrison’s climate transition plans are as wishy-washy as his words. Speaking this week, he once again put the responsibility for emissions reductions on others’ shoulders – this time industry, including notoriously emissions-heavy industries that have so far resisted decarbonisation, and researchers (the emphasis on research is particularly interesting, given the Morrison government’s determination to gut universities and research institutes, including key climate agencies).
As ACTU President Michele O’Neil wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, when Federal leadership goes missing, workers and communities lose out. “None of this is doing Australian workers any favours, whether they are helping communities recover from the latest climate disaster or losing their jobs as coal-fired power stations close,” O’Neil writes.
But Australia has a lot to learn from its allies. It’s not just about targets, and the scale of ambition needed to meet the climate crisis. It’s also about what a climate plan can do to protect and create jobs and improve the community’s standards of living.
At the end of March, Biden launched his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan. Aimed at revitalising American infrastructure and improving workers’ livelihoods, sustainability is embedded in this blueprint for fixing America’s physical and social infrastructure. From repairing 20,000 miles of roads, to providing high-speed broadband to all Americans, to modernizing homes and schools and creating well-paying jobs for care workers, Biden’s plan aims for a fairer, greener America, coming out of the disaster of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden’s plan has already met criticism, and its passage through Congress is far from certain. Hostile Republicans are determined to wreck Biden’s plans. For progressive Democrats this is only the starting point for a deeper, social and economic transformation. But, from an Australian perspective, it’s just such a relief to see a Government take the climate crisis seriously, and see that it’s connected to work, infrastructure, and community.
A self-proclaimed ‘union guy’, Biden has put good, well-paid jobs are at the heart of the Jobs Plan. The Plan promises to ensure workers’ rights to join a union, and collective bargaining rights. From investment in infrastructure, to reviving manufacturing, to supporting care workers, workers are now front and centre of America’s carbon transition.
As O’Neil writes, “There’s plenty of inspiration to be found globally where job creation and pollution reduction are working hand-in-hand”. The Australian community, and Australian Unions, are watching these developments closely, and will be listening carefully to what comes out of the Climate Summit. We hope the Federal Government does, too.