Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison at the G7 summit (Image: EPA/Neil Hall)

While mainstream media outlets were claiming in advance that Scott Morrison was “ready to stare down G7 on climate change” and “will warn G7 nations not to put carbon tariffs on trade“, the outcome of the G7 summit only served to demonstrate how wholly out of touch Australia is with international climate action.

The G7 communique was criticised by climate action advocates for being far too weak; Greenpace UK insisted it “reheated old promises” and that Boris Johnson had “peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency” (and that was nothing compared to the criticism on vaccines). So what did the communique commit to? The G7 “seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees” and “net zero no later than 2050, halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030”.

That was backed by a commitment “to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s and to actions to accelerate this. Internationally, we commit to aligning official international financing with the global achievement of net zero GHG emissions no later than 2050 and for deep emissions reductions in the 2020s”. And given “continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach we stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now”.

Morrison — despite months of headlines to the contrary from the press gallery — continues to reject any date for net zero at all. Australia’s emissions reduction commitment  — which Morrison falsely says we will “meet and beat” — is just 26% by 2030, half that of the G7. And his government continues to support new coal-fired power — via a handout to Shine Energy to investigate a new coal-fired power plant, its offer to donor Trevor St Baker’s Delta Energy to fund an upgrade of the Vales Point coal-fired plant, and its attempts to force owners to keep unviable and unreliable coal plants operating.

Thus Australia is positioned as far behind even a watered-down, inadequate G7 commitment to accelerate decarbonisation, including shutting down coal-fired power and achieving 50% emissions reduction by 2030.

Rather than “staring down the G7”, whatever that means, Morrison’s only response was to announce a partnership with Japan — another coal straggler — on “decarbonisation through technology”, in which the two countries agreed to “collaborate and coordinate together”. Sadly, Morrison couldn’t escape reality on this either — the statement pointedly notes that Japan has committed to net zero by 2050. For those keeping count, Japan is also committed to a 46% reduction in emissions from 2013 levels by 2030. We can’t even keep up with the laggards.

The other press release was the announcement of a “Declaration of Intent between the Government of Australia and the Government of Germany on the Australia-Germany Hydrogen Accord” to fund some hydrogen trials.

Hydrogen is one of the government’s “good” technologies to achieve emissions reduction, along with carbon capture and, if they could ever get their way, “small modular” nuclear power. “Good” in that it is commercially unviable, will take far too long to make a difference on climate even in the unlikely event it is successful, and will enable the major fossil fuel industries to continue emitting, and donating, for decades to come. And as opposed to “bad” technologies that exist now, are proven to work, are cheaper than all fossil fuel systems, and which don’t donate to the Coalition.

The two releases serve to illustrate a basic rule of thumb about the Morrison government — whenever there’s a significant policy challenge, the answer is always a media release, not substantive action.

Morrison, meanwhile, couldn’t even get a one-on-one meeting with President Biden, who insisted Boris Johnson be in the room with him. Perhaps Biden remembers that Morrison literally campaigned for Donald Trump. Or perhaps he sees little point in wasting time with a man so resolutely stuck in the past.