International and domestic pressure is increasing on the Morrison government to raise its climate ambitions, with the UK government expected to announce an emissions reductions target of 78 per cent and Australian industry calling for bold climate policy.
The UK target, based on 1990 emissions levels and to be met by 2035, is the most ambitious so far announced by a major economy and underscores the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the November United Nations climate talks, to encourage the world to take significant immediate action.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison making his remarks on climate policy during a speech on Monday night at the Business Council of Australia’s annual dinner.Credit:Wolter Peeters
United States President Joe Biden is to host 40 world leaders at an Earth Day climate summit later this week, a key event leading up to the Glasgow talks. Observers expect the US will use the summit to increase its own emissions reductions target from 26 to 28 per cent on 1990 levels by 2025 and to 50 per cent or more by 2030.
Australia has committed to reduce its emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated in a speech on Monday he is not planning more ambitious emissions reduction commitments and again ruled out a carbon tax or price.
Mr Morrison has said previously he hopes to reach net zero emissions “as soon as possible”, preferably by 2050. He has stopped short of committing to a deadline and said Australia’s climate policy would not be “set in any part of the world other than here”.
Hours after the Prime Minister’s speech, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech the Biden administration would increase pressure on nations seen not to be acting fast enough on climate change.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action – or inaction – is setting the world back,” Mr Blinken said.
“When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are.”
A Morrison government spokesman said it would release a long-term emissions reduction strategy before the United Nations climate summit in November, and said Australia had previously outstripped the climate action of other nations.
“Our track record is one of reducing emissions faster than our developed country peers,” the spokesman said.
“Between 2005 and 2018, Australia’s emissions fell faster than Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Korea or the US. Over that same period, half of G20 members actually increased their emissions.”
The Morrison government’s “technology not taxes” emission reduction strategy is focused on research and development to reduce the cost of low-emissions technology to encourage industry take-up.
However, industry says emissions targets and bold policies are needed to realise the nation’s climate ambitions, as they welcomed the Prime Minister’s pronouncement that regional manufacturers and farmers are key to reaching net zero greenhouse gases.
Peak employer body Ai Group said a firmer national commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 would “provide welcome clarity and coherence to policy-making at all levels of government” and help drive take up of low-emissions technology so Australia remains competitive in a carbon-constrained world.
“Taking technologies from one category to the other requires big deployment policies that slash costs through scale and learning,” Ai chief executive Innes Willox said.
“The challenge will be to ensure any policies are ambitious enough to make us competitive in a net zero world.”
Australia’s peak agriculture lobby has committed to strive for net zero by 2050, including the powerhouse beef industry, and some more ambitious industries such as pork and grains have committed to a 2030 decarbonisation goal.
National Farmers Federation head of natural resources policy Warwick Ragg welcomed the Prime Minister’s focus on agriculture’s carbon potential and said new policies are needed to drive further gains in a sector that has already contributed to lower emissions.
“Demand and supply policies need to work in unison to be effective,” Mr Ragg said. “I’d like to see a greater focus on how farmers can be engaged.”
Amid pressure from global investors, Australia’s big miners, including BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue, have all announced plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Australia along with China, Japan, South Korea and India make up a group of nations that are being targeted to ramp up climate action by the UK and the US this year. As part of the global push Australia, South Korea and India have been invited to join the G7 meeting in June that they would not normally attend.
It is understood at the summit this week the US wants Australia to dramatically increase its 2030 reduction commitment and outline a path away from fossil fuels and South Korea and Japan to stop financing offshore coal projects. It hopes to see China bring forward its commitment to have its emissions peak in 2030, to stop building new coal-fired power plants domestically and cease funding projects that harm the environment in its offshore Belt and Road development program.
Mr Morrison also said on Monday net zero would not be achieved at “cafes, dinner parties and wine bars” in the nation’s inner cities. Inner-city MP Trent Zimmerman, from North Sydney, said the speech was “really important on the path to [the UN Glasgow summit] and the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 which is what I’m hoping the government signs up to”.
Dave Sharma, representing the wine-bar heavy electorate of Wentworth on Sydney’s harbourside, welcomed the Prime Minister’s remarks on Monday and said his focus on regional industries was well targeted at communities “which feel they have had to bear the sacrifices” of previous emissions reduction efforts.
Mr Sharma said climate policy was an “iterative process” for the government and “I expect there is a fair bit more we will be saying and doing throughout the year”.
Katie Allen, representing the Higgins electorate in Melbourne, welcomed the Prime Minister’s remarks and said further policy to drive uptake of low emissions technology and “having some more meat on the bone around the plan will allow us to more readily commit to a target”.
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