Nationals' Barnaby Joyce warns against being 'forced into a corner'

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce says his party won’t be “forced into a corner” on the government’s proposed pathway to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as the date of a global climate conference approaches.

Key points:

  • The government is trying to convince the Nationals to support its net zero by 2050 climate plan.
  • The Nationals say they may not decide before next month’s international climate conference.
  • The party fears the current plan does not insulate the regions from economic harm.

The Nationals party room was presented with the government’s climate change plan on Sunday, but failed to come to a decision after hours of wrangling over it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hopes to be able to commit to a net zero by 2050 plan before the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, begins in Glasgow at the end of this month.

But Mr Joyce said his party would not be forced to decide by the deadline.

“I’m not going to give a time constraint to it,” Mr Joyce said.

“Sometimes if you start giving time constraints you will get one answer if people are not completely comfortable, and I don’t think that is the answer people want.

“If someone believes they are being forced into a corner, you know what they are going to do, they are going to say no.”

Shadow climate change minister Chris Bowen said the Nationals had already been given years to settle on a climate plan.

“They have been engaged in eight years of denial and delay.

“Every Australian is entitled to be frustrated … and rural and regional Australians have a particular right to be angry, because rural and regional Australia will pay the price for unchecked climate change.”

However, Mr Bowen did not outline Labor’s own plan to reach net zero emissions although, he said, the 2050 target should be legislated, and that medium-term targets should be increased.

“We actually want to give the government a chance to get this right … and see if we can give them bipartisan support.”

No plan to increase 2030 target

The government has faced local and international pressure to set more ambitious 2030 emissions targets along the road to net zero. 

States including New South Wales have set targets to reduce emissions by 50 per cent in the next decade, almost double the current federal target of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction of emissions from 2005 levels.

But deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud said more ambitious federal targets were off the table, with the plan presented to the party room containing no reference to a higher 2030 target.

“The only details that have been presented to the National Party is for net zero by 2050,” Mr Littleproud said. 

“And I think we need the time, air and space to be able to do that in a constructive manner, to get a result on that. Any other proposals would have to be very clearly defined to us, before we gave that any consideration.”

Bridget Mckenzie, Barnaby Joyce and David Littleproud walk down a hallway towards the camera.
The Nationals party room learned the government’s climate plan on Sunday, but want more time to consider it. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The government has indicated it will release projections on how Australia is tracking to meet its current emissions targets in coming days.

Joyce says plan doesn’t serve regions

The Nationals say they won’t support any plan that they fear may hurt regional industries.

Mr Joyce said the current plan did not clear that bar.

Reporter: “Does the plan as it stands look after regional people?”

Joyce: “If you went forward with it as it is, no.”

Reporter: “So do you support the plan as it is?”

Joyce: “The view of the room as it stands, they’ve got questions.”

Mr Joyce claimed Australia’s actions alone would have “no effect” on climate, but he said they would affect regional economies.

He said it was important to take a considered approach to the country’s climate plan.

Energy minister Angus Taylor, who presented the government’s plan to the Nationals, said the Liberals and Nationals were on the same page on the issue.

“All of us have a common interest in making sure there is no destruction of jobs, no extra cost being added,” he said.

“That’s what our plan is focused on.”

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