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ABC interview with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham gets heated

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A TV interview on ABC with the Finance Minister took a bizarre turn after a significant stoush erupted over the use of one word. A TV interview with the Finance Minister took a strange turn after a debate erupted over using the word “pledge”. Simon Birmingham, the government leader in the Senate, appeared on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing with host Patricia Karvelas on Thursday. 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 100 years, 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, cattle, and sheep. At the UN summit, global leaders are expected to push to reduce emissions from current levels by 30 percent by 2030. The latter has been a sticking point for the Nationals, particularly with leader Barnaby Joyce saying a 30 percent reduction in methane emissions would spell disaster for the beef industry. On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra was blunt, 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.

Simon Birmingham

During his TV interview, Mr. Birmingham said reducing methane emissions will still play a role in helping honor 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’s 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 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 outlines some of the issues 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 consistently recognized that this pledge presents difficulties for a country like Australia, given the nature of our farming sector,r 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, the government was “on track to reduce emissions between 30 and 35 percent” — which would “comfortably beat” Australia’s commitment — Karvelas asked, “OK, but why not make this thirty-five percent sort of a nationally determined pledge?”

And that’s when the conversation became heated.

Patricia Karvelas: Can you explain to me what’s the difference between an update and a pledge on this 35 percent?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the commitment under the Paris Agreement, there’s a detailed, nationally determined commitment process that you go to in Australia will be updating its NDC as part of that. Some longer-term commitments are outlined as part of the structure that the Paris Agreement has countries engage in, and Australia will be making one of those longer-term commitments in terms of the net-zero commitment by 2050.

Patricia Karvelas: OK, but why not make this thirty-five percent sort of a nationally determined pledge?

Simon Birmingham: As part of our updated NDC outlining that we made a commitment and how we are tracking against that commitment. We’re following extraordinarily well to meet and beat that commitment.

Patricia Karvelas: So is that thirty-five percent 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 because I pledge lots of things, and then make them a reality, too, because it’s part of the pledge?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not 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 will make that happen; I think it’s essential that we get to this thirty-five percent 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 essential part of the pledge, it’s the pledge that we’re investing some $20 billion of public money and going 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 allow the rest of the world to achieve lower emissions. Ultra-low-cost solar, affordable hydrogen energy for the world, the pursuit of green, softer aluminum and steel. The purpose of cheap energy storage for the future, achieving carbon capture or re-use opportunities at reasonable 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 few countries that are meeting and exceeding our climate change reduction commitments, but hopefully,y others can help with affordable technologies at their disposal.

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