The prime minister says he is focused on “practical” measures to address the effects of climate change in Australia rather than bolstering emission reduction targets.
As the government faces internal pressure to do more on climate change policy, Scott Morrison said Australia was already “carrying its weight” in terms of its global emission reduction efforts and transition to renewables but more needed to be done on “resilience and adaptation”.
“I have set out what I think we need to do in terms of the future and that has been very much ensuring that we continue to meet and beat the emission reduction targets that we have set,” he said.
“I think more significantly that resilience and adaptation need an even greater focus.
“We must build our resilience for the future and that must be done on the science and the practical realities of the things we can do right here to make a difference.”
It was a “fact” that Australia would experience “longer, hotter, drier summers” over the next 10 years which meant it needed to “prepare practically”.
This approach was necessary because one of his “core” responsibilities as prime minister was to “keep Australians safe”.
“The practical things that can actually keep you safe during the next fire or the next flood or the next cyclone are the things that most benefit people here and now,” Morrison said.
“The emissions reduction action of any one country anywhere in the world is not going to specifically stop or start one fire event, but what the climate resilience and adaptation work can do within a country can very much directly ensure that Australians are better protected against what this reality is in the future.
“My response to these things is always a very practical one.”
However, he rejected the argument that the bushfire crisis should prompt a major rethink on climate change policy in the same way that the Port Arthur massacre prompted gun law reform by the Howard government.
“I don’t like to make comparisons between these sorts of things,” he said. “I think they are very different events.”
Morrison was speaking after announcing a $100m package of financial assistance for farmers affected by the bushfire crisis, who will be able to access up to $75,000 to help rebuild their operations.
The money, which comes from the $2bn recovery fund announced earlier this month, would assist an estimated 19,000 primary producers, farmers, fishers and foresters.
On Sunday Morrison said the government was prepared to “evolve” its climate change policies while sticking to its commitment under the Paris agreement to cut emissions by 26%-28% of 2005 levels by 2030.
The shift in rhetoric was seized upon by some Liberal MPs who are under pressure in inner-city seats over the government’s climate policies.
As Morrison attempted to talk up the government’s climate policies, Labor accused him of peddling untrue figures to prop up his claim that Australia’s annual carbon emissions had fallen by 50m tonnes “on average” under the Coalition compared with Labor.
The opposition’s climate change spokesman, Mark Butler, said Australia’s annual emissions fell by 87.5m tonnes under the former Labor government compared with just 0.8m tonnes under the Coalition.
Government figures show Australia’s carbon emissions were 533m tonnes in 2014 and were 530m tonnes in 2019.
After Labor introduced a carbon price, emissions fell dramatically from 622m tonnes in 2007 to 538m tonnes in 2013.
“At a time of public concern about climate change, Australians deserve better,” Butler said.
Voters have also marked down Morrison’s handling of the bushfire crisis, with the Guardian Essential poll finding the number of people who disapprove of his performance has increased from 43% in December to 52%.
However, his approval rating among Coalition supporters remained relatively unchanged, going only from 82% in December to 79%.