Scott Morrison has confirmed Australia will attend the virtual “climate ambition summit” on 12 December to “correct mistruths” about the government’s heavily criticised record on emissions reduction.
Guardian Australia reported last month that Britain and France were leading a group of countries calling on the Australian government to make ambitious new commitments at the December gathering to combat the climate crisis.
The rules of engagement for the forum require leaders to make concrete commitments – stronger targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, a long-term strategy to reach net zero emissions, committing new finance for developing countries or outlining ambitious plans and policies to adapt to locked-in climate change impacts – if they are to be allocated speaking time.
Guardian Australia understands Morrison is planning to make an announcement at next week’s summit but it is unclear whether the prime minister will be trumpeting the government’s technology roadmap, which is already in the public domain in Australia, or whether it will be more wide-ranging, including, potentially, more support for Pacific countries on the frontline of the crisis.
Fourteen Pacific leaders, including former presidents and prime ministers, foreign ministers, archbishops and other church leaders, penned an open letter to Morrison this week urging Australia to step up ambition by adopting a mid-century emissions pledge of net zero, and abandoning controversial Kyoto-era accounting for 2030.
Morrison also recently told senior business leaders his government may not need the Kyoto carryover credits to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target because he was “confident our policies will get this job done”.
If the government follows through with that signal it would be a shift in policy. Official government emissions projections released in December last year suggested Australia was not on track to meet its 2030 target submitted under the Paris climate agreement unless it used the credits.
Australia’s 2030 target is a 26%-28% cut below 2005 levels. According to last year’s projections, emissions were expected to be only 16% below 2005 levels by 2030 unless credits were counted. New emissions projections are scheduled for release this month.
A Senate estimates hearing before Morrison’s recent signal confirmed Australia was the only country planning to claim the credits. Australia’s strategy has been opposed by several nations and analysts suggest the strategy has no legal basis under the Paris agreement.
But this week, the Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick declared the government should use them regardless – an intervention that prompted the Morrison government’s special envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, Warren Entsch, to urge the government to adopt a net zero emissions target by 2050.
The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, asked Morrison in parliament on Thursday whether he intended to attend the 12 December summit and whether he intended to make a meaningful announcement.
Morrison did not attend a UN climate action summit in New York last year despite being in the US to visit the Trump administration at the time. Speaking slots at that event were also reserved for countries announcing new commitments.
The Liberal leader told Bandt he would be attending the summit and it would be “a great opportunity to correct the mistruths spoken by the leader of the Greens”.
Morrison’s language about climate action has warmed up considerably since Joe Biden – the incoming US president with ambitious climate commitments – was projected the winner of November’s presidential contest.
Referencing the potential on Thursday for Australia to ultimately reach net zero emissions by 2050 – a commitment the Coalition is yet to adopt – Morrison told parliament “if and when is not the question, the how is the question, and if you don’t know how to do it, you will never get there, and you will never achieve it”.
Morrison characterised this insight as the “practical contribution Australia brings to the table”. Emissions reductions targets do require countries to lay out the “if” and the “when” of the commitment – identifying specific levels of emissions reductions by specific timeframes.
Morrison said Australia wanted to pursue a path of developing low emissions technologies both to reduce its own emissions and to assist developing countries achieve levels of abatement that would make a tangible improvement to the global trajectory.
Australia’s roadmap includes a statement that sets “stretch goals” at which point some clean technologies – “clean” hydrogen, energy storage, “low-carbon” steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon – would become economically competitive with alternatives. The stretch goals, thus far, are not tied to a timeframe or policies that require increased use of the technologies.