Australian government officials privately advised Angus Taylor that the latest international report on climate science was “balanced and transparent” before Barnaby Joyce later refused to endorse some of the key findings.
Amid government divisions on climate policy in the lead-up to the Glasgow Cop26 conference, Guardian Australia can reveal Taylor’s department also told him to expect intensified calls “for more ambitious climate targets, such as net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier”.
Taylor, the emissions reduction minister, received a four-page briefing from his department just before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new report in August.
The industry department also provided Taylor with “updated talking points” and a “media handling strategy” – although those attachments were not included in the document released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws (FoI).
“It is the department’s view that the report provides a detailed, balanced and transparent assessment that addresses Australia’s comments submitted during the final government review,” stated the ministerial submission sent on 9 August.
Taylor and the Liberals largely accepted the IPCC report, with Taylor saying on its release that “Australia is committed to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”.
However, three weeks after its release, Joyce, who as the leader of the Nationals will be crucial to the outcome of the government’s climate policy negotiations, declined to endorse specific IPCC findings.
At a National Press Club event on 3 September, the deputy prime minister likened questions from the Guardian about whether he agreed with several key findings from the report to a baptism where parents were required to “denounce Satan and all his works and deeds”. Joyce said he was “not going to stand here and sort of be berated into complying” with such statements.
When presented with several statements from the 40-page summary for policymakers, Joyce said he would not “participate in some sort of kangaroo court of now you will agree to every statement I say because the IPCC said it”.
He said only that he believed “humans have an influence on climate”, without specifying how much of an influence.
But the department’s briefing to Taylor on the IPCC report noted that the summary for policymakers “was approved line by line in an IPCC member government approval session from 26 July to 6 August 2021” and represented a balanced outcome.
“The report is expected to attract significant media attention and intensify calls for more ambitious climate targets, such as net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier,” the department told Taylor.
The department said the key messages from the report included that it was “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.
The briefing said this was the IPCC’s strongest statement on human influence to date “and builds on a similar finding in its Fifth Assessment Report in 2013 which found that human influence was ‘clear’”.
The briefing also noted that “limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions”.
“Stakeholders might use the report’s release as an opportunity to amplify calls for near term action to reduce methane emissions, noting its greater warming impact compared to carbon dioxide on a tonne for tonne basis, over a 100-year time horizon,” it stated.
Three paragraphs in the briefing were blacked out in the version released to Guardian Australia apparently because of a potential impact on foreign relations.
The briefing was prepared for Taylor and there is no indication Joyce received it.
Pressure builds on Australia
Australia is facing sustained diplomatic pressure, including from the US and the UK, to strengthen its climate policies, including its 2030 target, which remains at the Abbott-era level of a 26% to 28% cut compared with 2005.
The FoI decision-maker said of the redactions: “I am satisfied this material contains opinions and confidential information about issues of sensitivity between Australia and various foreign countries and the release of this material would inhibit or prejudice future negotiations between the Australian government and the government of these countries.”
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, pushed back at diplomatic pressure on Thursday, saying he would not “make any suggestions as to what other countries should be doing”.
Addressing reporters outside the Lodge in Canberra, Morrison said the government would be “working through” the details of its climate plan “over the next few weeks”, arguing it had been “a very good faith process” to date.
Morrison did not rule out accepting a controversial proposal to create a $250bn loan facility for the resources sector in return for National party backing for a net zero emissions target.
The resources minister, Keith Pitt, has proposed that taxpayers underwrite fossil fuel financing and insurance, but the idea has been met with scorn by metropolitan Liberals.
The Australia Institute, a progressive thinktank, plans to launch a new television advertising campaign that accuses the government of “trying to cheat on climate action again”.
“Their plan for net zero emissions by 2050 is a fraud if gas and coal are allowed to expand,” the narrator says in a 30-second ad expected to air from Monday.
Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, said actions spoke louder than words.
“While the prime minister is poised to announce a net zero by 2050 target, we can see from this government’s actions that it has little intention of meeting such a target, let alone beating it,” Merzian said.
With the Asian Development Bank preparing to decide on a new energy policy that is likely to include an end to financing coal projects, a Treasury spokesperson said on Thursday the Australian government was “currently considering its position”.