Climate crisis: ‘Australian policies won’t be set in the United Kingdom’ says PM as international pressure to set net-zero target grows

Failure to adopt environmental goal comes amid increasing concern over Australian government’s ‘gas-led recovery’ plan

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 28 October 2020 17:10
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Scott Morrison has said Australia will make ‘sovereign decisions’ on any climate targets
Scott Morrison has said Australia will make ‘sovereign decisions’ on any climate targets

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has said his government will not be dictated to by other countries over its perceived lack of ambition to tackle the climate crisis.

His remarks on Wednesday follow a call with Boris Johnson, in which the UK prime minister urged Australia to take “bold action” on dealing with the crisis, and set out firm plans to reach net-zero emissions ahead of the Cop26 climate summit.

Mr Morrison’s government has strongly resisted committing to a timeframe to reach the target, despite the country experiencing record temperatures and wildfires exacerbated by a changing climate.

His administration has also promised a “gas-led recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic, which has been attacked as a “disaster” by those concerned about the environment, and inconsistent with the Paris climate agreement.

Meanwhile four of Australia’s top trading partners have already adopted net-zero emissions targets, with coal and gas making up a quarter of the country’s exports in value.

China, Japan, Britain and South Korea together account for more than $310bn (£168bn) in Australian annual trade between them, and have all now adopted net-zero emissions targets of 2050 or 2060 in China’s case, increasing the pressure on Australia's fossil fuel industry.

“I am not concerned about our future exports,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.  

“Australia will set our policies here. Our policies won't be set in the United Kingdom, they won't be set in Brussels, they won't be set in any part of the world other than here.”

Following media interest in the difference between the UK government’s record of the phone call and that recorded in Australia, Mr Morrison said the British prime minister understood that Australia would make “sovereign decisions” on the targets it set.

“It shouldn't come at the cost of higher prices for the daily things that our citizens depend on,” Mr Morrison said.

“One thing the British Prime Minister and I agree on is that achieving emissions reductions shouldn't come at the cost of jobs in Australia or the UK.”

The official British readout of the call indicated Mr Johnson had stressed the need for “bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK’s experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand in hand”.

But the Australian record states Mr Johnson “welcomed our significant increase in emissions reduction programs announced through the budget, and strongly endorsed our focus on unlocking practical pathways to reducing emissions”.

The row has erupted as new research indicates Australian concerns about the impact of the climate are rapidly growing.

The 2020 Climate of the Nation report, released on Wednesday, found that two in three Australians would prefer the government opted for investing in renewable energy as the pathway out of recession, rather than fossil fuels, as Mr Morrison’s government has promised.

Think-tank The Australia Institute has conducted the annual survey, which has run for the past 13 years and surveys the attitudes of 2,000 Australian voters.

The report found just 12 per cent of Australians agreed with Mr Morrison’s administration and supported an economic recovery powered by investment in gas.

“Our research shows that far from dampening the call for climate action, the Covid-19 crisis has strengthened Australians’ resolve for all levels of government to take action on climate change,” Australia Institute director Richie Merzian said in a statement.

“The Australian government's call for a ‘gas-fired recovery’ to reignite the economy in the wake of Covid-19 is not backed by popular support,” he said in the report's foreword.

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