New Deputy PM casts doubt over 2050 net zero emissions

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce sitting in parliament (Nationals net zero)
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce

A climate change sceptic will be Australia’s new deputy prime minister following yesterday’s Nationals leadership spill, making it harder for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to achieve a commitment of zero net emissions by 2050, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia wants to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible, “preferably” by 2050, but the appointment of a known climate change sceptic as his deputy has seemingly cast doubt on this goal.

Related article: A growing commitment to net zero emissions in Australia

Barnaby Joyce was previously deputy prime minister from 2016 to 2018 but resigned after a scandal erupted over the revelation of his extramarital affair with a former staffer. Joyce won a National party leadership vote on Monday defeating incumbent Michael McCormack. By convention, the leader of the rural-based National party becomes deputy prime minister in a Liberal-National coalition government.

Joyce, who will be sworn in as deputy prime minister today, said his party will only support an energy policy that bolsters the government’s appeal in regional Australia, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel mining.

“I want to make sure that we have a process that we can go to places such as central Queensland (a major mining state)… and give us the very best chance of winning the next election,” Joyce told reporters in Canberra.

Joyce’s assent is likely to derail Morrison’s hope of strengthening Australia’s climate targets amid a concerted push by US President Joe Biden for countries to commit to a pledge of zero net emission by 2050.

“Barnaby Joyce has made it known that he wants the National party to be independent and there won’t be any room for compromise on net zero by 2050,” Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia, told Reuters.

Related article: Scott Morrison has embraced net-zero emissions—now it’s time to walk the talk

Joyce has previously said he was willing to vote against any government legislation that costs jobs as a result of higher climate standards.

Unlike other developed nations, Australia has refused to budge from its Paris Agreement commitment to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Original reporting by Colin Packham (Reuters)