HomeABC interview with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham gets heated

ABC interview with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham gets heated

A TV interview on the ABC with the Finance Minister took a bizarre turn after a major stoush erupted over the use of one word.

A TV interview with the Finance Minister took a bizarre turn after a war of words erupted over the use of the word “pledge”.

Simon Birmingham, also the leader of the government in the Senate, appeared on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing with host Patricia Karvelas on Thursday where he was grilled on the latest net zero announcements this week, including Australia’s decision not to back an international pledge to slash methane emissions.

According to the AFP, methane is around 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 100-year period, but it stays in the atmosphere for only 12 years compared to centuries.

After carbon dioxide, methane emissions are the second-biggest cause of climate change. It comes from natural gas, open pit coal mines, and cattle and sheep.

It’s the latter that has been a sticking point for the Nationals in particular, with leader Barnaby Joyce saying a 30 per cent reduction in methane emissions would spell disaster for the beef industry.

At the UN summit, global leaders are expected to push for a reduction in those emissions from current levels by 30 per cent by 2030.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra was blunt in his opposition, saying it was never part of Australia’s plan. The Opposition has also backed the government.

“What we’ve said very clearly, though, is we’re not signing up to the 2030 methane request,” Mr Morrison said.

During his TV interview, Mr Birmingham said reducing methane emissions will still play a role in helping honour the commitment of net zero by 2050 but echoed the PM’s comments that further reductions by the end of 2030 were never part of the plan.

“It’s not part of the Paris Agreement long-term commitment process around achieving net zero by 2050, but tackling methane itself is over that journey to 2050,” Mr Birmingham said.

“To 2050, you have to account for all of the different gases that are part of the climate change challenge and we certainly do that very transparently as a nation. And the plan released this week does outline some of the issues that we need to tackle as a country in terms of dairy cattle, beef cattle and particularly the measures, the technologies that might get us there.

“We would have always recognised the fact that this particular pledge presents difficulties for a country like Australia, given the nature of our farming sector and what we need to do is precisely what we’ve outlined this week.

“Work to achieve net zero and as part of that address the methane challenges by investing in technology, particularly around types of new feedstock opportunities that are available, and that’s their detailed as one of the things in the plan released this week.”

But things quickly got sticky.

After boasting the Morrison government was “on track to reduce emissions between 30 and 35 per cent” — which would “comfortably beat” Australia’s commitment — Karvelas asked “Okay, but why not make this thirty five per cent sort of a nationally determined pledge?”

And that’s where the conversation became heated.

Simon Birmingham: So we are as part of our updated NDC outlining indeed that we made a commitment and how we are tracking against that commitment, which is that we’re tracking extraordinarily well to meet and beat that commitment.

Patricia Karvelas: So is that thirty five per cent then a pledge?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s showing what Australia is doing and it’s showing reality Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas: That’s the reality. And we want that to be the reality.

Simon Birmingham: Reality is better than a pledge.

Patricia Karvelas: So it’s not a pledge.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think reality, if it’s a game of poker, Patricia, reality trumps a pledge.

Patricia Karvelas: OK? Why not make it a pledge then because I pledge lots of things and then I make them a reality too, because it’s part of the pledge.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not quite sure why you want to take us into a word game here.

Patricia Karvelas: No, no, no, no, no. I’m not being silly. I want to explain. I think it’s important for my viewers that they understand, because if you pledge, you’re saying I am going to make that happen, I think it’s really important that we get to this thirty five per cent reduction. I don’t just say it will happen and I hope it happens. I commit to making it happen.

Simon Birmingham: So the pledge we’re making, which is driving this reality and it’s the really important part of the pledge, it’s the pledge that we’re investing some $20 billion of public money and driving some further $60 billion plus of private money across the years to 2030 into the technologies that are enabling us to achieve lower emissions and will enable the rest of the world to achieve lower emissions.

Ultra low cost solar, affordable hydrogen energy for the world, the pursuit of green, lower cost aluminium and steel. The pursuit of affordable energy storage for the future, achieving carbon capture or re-use opportunities at affordable levels. These are the transformations that we’re pledging to invest billions of dollars as a country in pursuing that will make lower emissions technologies possible not just for us, but for other countries around the world to do so. So that we’re not one of only a small number of countries who are meeting and exceeding our climate change reduction commitments, but hopefully others can with affordable technologies at their disposal.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has flown off for key climate talks with a commitment but without finalised modelling for his plan.

Mr Morrison will meet with world leaders first at the G20 leaders’ summit in Rome before travelling to Glasgow for the much anticipated United Nations COP26 climate summit.

It is the first in-person gathering of the leaders of the world’s biggest economies since the pandemic started.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor will accompany the Prime Minister on his VIP jet “Shark One”.


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