Australia is edging closer to declaring a net-zero emissions goal, despite being governed by one of the most climate-sceptic political groups in the developed world.

“Our goal is to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who made it clear that his Liberal-National coalition government was not yet committing itself to the target.

He said that Australia could not make such a commitment until it was clear how the country would achieve such a goal.

“When I can tell you how we get there, that’s when I’ll tell you when we’re going to get there,” he said on Monday.

“If you don’t get there by technology, you get there by [carbon] taxes, and I will not make Australians pay higher taxes to get to net zero.”

Morrison suffered international embarrassment in December after he was vetoed from attending a climate summit in London in December after declining to set a 2050 net-zero emissions target.

Anthony Albanese, leader of the opposition Labor Party, responded to the prime minister’s new statement by saying: “Scott Morrison needs to explain how it is that his rhetoric when Labor adopted net zero by 2050, he said it would have catastrophic economic consequences.”

Some of the coalition’s senators and members of parliament openly oppose efforts to fight climate change, with outspoken Queensland senator Matt Canavan campaigning to open new coal-fired power stations to support the manufacturing sector.

“If we go down single-mindedly on just trying to shut things down in a futile effort to cool the planet we're going to make that other problem a lot worse,” he said.

Record renewables installations

The country’s Clean Energy Regulator announced on Tuesday that a record 7GW of renewables capacity was installed in Australia last year, with the share of clean energy in the power mix exceeding 30% for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2020.

It did not explain how much of that 7GW was wind and solar, but did state that the figure was driven by a “solar installation boom”, with one in four Australian homes now fitted with rooftop solar.

“Australia now has the highest solar capacity per person of any country in the world (644 watts per person) and the highest wind and solar capacity of any country outside of Europe (804 watts per person),” said a statement from the office of Angus Taylor, the minister for energy and emissions reduction.