‘The Australian’ Editorialises for Net Zero Emissions

In an op-ed in The Australian this week, editor-at-large Paul Kelly argued that Morrison has “no choice but to commit to net zero [emissions] by 2050.” The piece marks a remarkable shift for the conservative broadsheet, and one that Morrison will most likely begin to accommodate.

The Australian has long held an obstructionist and contrarian position on global warming, renewable energy and climate policy. Most notably, it misreported arson statistics during the 2019 – 20 bushfires so as to represent them as the product of a few bad actors, rather than a systemic and long-predicted consequence of global warming. It also presented the Greens as opposed to hazard reduction burning.

But seeing the global shift towards a net zero emissions by 2050 target, which includes the US, EU, Japan, the UK and South Korea, The Australian is slowly moving with the times. Now they’re trying to bring Morrison with them.

Openly strategizing for the government, the paper hypothesized that Morrison accepting net zero emissions would push Labor and the Greens into more radical positions. It described net zero emissions as a “centrist” position.

All the while, it managed to maintain an unvarnished disdain for climate activists who have been pushing for net zero emissions for decades. Kelly snidely describes the global movement to 2050 targets as part policy, part “virtue-signalling.” The net zero goals declared by conservative Boris Johnson and Democrat Joe Biden are presented as distracting from the real emergency of Covid-19 with ambitious claims about their climate goals. It is “leadership promotion” and “therapy for weary publics.”

“Morrison knows that 2050 net zero is loaded with hypocrisy,” writes Kelly. “Many leaders have signed up clueless about how to get there.” Yet despite the rhetorical edge, the policy change is substantial.

The Australian’s Paul Kelly

It is difficult to separate Kelly’s editor-at-large commentary from his heated tete-a-tete with Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A last month. Immediately after Kevin Rudd’s successful push for a Royal Commission into the Murdoch media, a petition which reached half a million signatures, Turnbull went on a media offensive. After a frontal onslaught on The Australian’s climate coverage, Turnbull called on Kelly to distance himself from the Murdoch stance. While at the time Kelly was indignant and being told what to write by Turnbull, he has now gone ahead and done so.

As bleak as 2020 has been, it will also be known as the year that renewable energy and climate action became the new normal.