‘Some Liberal MPs say it is politically important the government looks as though it is taking climate change seriously.’
Scott Morrison’s department has created a senior position to co-ordinate the government’s climate strategy and provide advice about emissions reductions, raising expectations within Coalition ranks that the Prime Minister will endorse a target of net-zero by 2050 within months.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens last month quietly appointed James Larsen, a long-time bureaucrat, to the position of deputy secretary and climate co-ordinator, elevating the issue. He will co-ordinate the work being done on the issue by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
Mr Larsen, a former ambassador to Turkey and Israel and key adviser to former foreign minister Bob Carr, is expected to use his connections to try to alter international perceptions that Australia is a laggard on climate action.
Government sources said no decision had been made on whether Australia would adopt a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. But there is a growing expectation among Liberal MPs that Mr Morrison will commit to the target before the November UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).
The government will also be under pressure to outline new climate initiatives at US President Joe Biden’s climate summit on April 22, or ahead of the G7 and G20 summits in June and October respectively.
Mr Larsen, who has been allocated three staff, has been chosen to bring a strategic approach to the government’s climate agenda and to push for more initiatives across government departments, alongside creating a strategy around net-zero emissions, sources close to discussions told The Australian.
A spokesman for Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the government’s emission reduction strategy would be released ahead of the COP26 meeting.
“Minister Taylor has been tasked with delivering on our long-term emissions reduction strategy, which we’ve been transparent on and will release in the lead-up to COP26,” he said.
Some Liberal MPs say it is politically important the government looks as though it is taking climate change seriously, privately arguing the National Party’s pro-coal advocacy lost more seats than it won at the last election.
The Liberal MPs say the rhetoric of the Nationals ahead of the last election forced the party to spend “millions” holding previously safe seats in Sydney and Melbourne, limiting its campaign spend in marginal electorates.