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Nationals MP says solar won’t work in the dark as party makes wishlist for supporting net zero target | Climate crisis

The federal resources minister, Keith Pitt, has declared solar panels don’t function in the dark when asked if he still believed renewables don’t work as the junior Coalition partner finalised its demands for potentially agreeing to net zero by 2050.

The Nationals party room met on Thursday evening to consider structural adjustment principles to put to Scott Morrison in exchange for supporting a net zero emissions reduction target.

Earlier, in parliament, Pitt laughed off a question about his previous public statements questioning the efficacy of renewable energy.

Asked whether he still believed that wind, solar and battery technology didn’t work and whether investments in renewable energy delivered little more than a “warm and fuzzy feeling”, Pitt declared: “Find me a solar panel that works in the dark.”

“I say to those opposite are you seriously suggesting that when there’s no sun, solar works? This is just a fundamental fact.”

Pitt, a champion of Australia’s coal and gas industry, has expressed deep reluctance to adopt the mid-century target.

Nationals met for close to an hour on Thursday evening ahead of talks between their leader, Barnaby Joyce, and Morrison about the terms of any agreement within the Coalition about new climate policy commitments to be unveiled ahead of the Cop26 conference in Glasgow.

Four Nationals ministers – Pitt, Bridget McKenzie, David Littleproud and Kevin Hogan – have coordinated the wishlist that is now with Morrison.

The four addressed their colleagues on Thursday evening and Joyce emphasised the fact that the party room owned the principles as opposed to the process being a captain’s call.

Some MPs asked questions. But Nationals MPs were not given a copy of the document which is said to run to three pages. Most outside the group of four ministers, and the leader, are unaware of its contents.

Some Nationals MPs were perplexed on Thursday evening about why the party room had even met given the contents of the wishlist were not distributed for discussion.

MPs were told by the ministers preparing the document that the principles needed to be high level, going to the safeguards that would be required during a structural adjustment of the economy between now and 2050. They were told not to suggest specific projects such as new coal plants or roads or bridges as the price of supporting the target.

The document is said to articulate principles and safeguards to secure and protect the interests of regional Australians during the transition, including by leveraging existing infrastructure and job creation programs.

Senior Liberals and Nationals hope that Joyce and Morrison can come to terms over the next 48 hours. Nationals will meet again on Sunday before federal parliament resumes next week and Liberals hope the junior Coalition partner will sign off on the net zero commitment then.

Morrison wants the government to have a consensus position on the mid-century target. But he has also made it clear this week the decision will be made by the cabinet.

Earlier this week, McKenzie, the Nationals frontbencher, declared it would be “ugly” if Morrison committed Australia to the mid-century target without the formal imprimatur of the Nationals party room.

But Morrison insisted cabinet would make the call because that process aligned with “the approach taken in the past” when it came to setting Australia’s international climate commitments – like agreeing to the Kyoto and Paris agreements. It means any ministers dissenting from the cabinet decision would need to consider their positions.

While not everybody in the Liberal party room supports net zero, Morrison has a clear mandate to proceed from his own party – a point Joyce has publicly acknowledged.

Australia remains under pressure from key allies to do more in the medium term. France’s ambassador this week urged the Morrison government to embrace stronger 2030 emission reduction targets as he declared there was “no room for complacency”.

Jean-Pierre Thébault pointedly praised all state and territory governments for already committing to net zero by 2050 while describing NSW’s recent pledge to halve emissions by the end of this decade as being in “the right direction”.

At the same climate change webinar, the Italian ambassador, Francesca Tardioli, who has previously urged the Morrison government to increase its 2030 target, said she hoped leaders of G20 nations including Australia took “the bold decisions that are needed to save our planet”.

Italy is hosting the G20 summit in Rome, just before the UK hosts Cop26 in Glasgow. Morrison will attend both the G20 and the United Nations-led climate conference.

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