Scott Morrison claims future generations will ‘thank us’ despite no new emissions pledge

·5-min read

Scott Morrison has told world leaders that future generations will “thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver” in his contribution at a virtual climate action summit convened by the president of the United States, Joe Biden.

With major countries, including the host, lining up at the event to significantly upgrade their emissions reduction targets, and with world leaders highlighting the urgency of ambitious action in the coming decade, Morrison made no new commitment, instead sticking to the country’s 2030 target of a 26%-28% cut compared with 2005 levels.

Australia’s prime minister said the government would “update our long-term emissions reduction strategy” ahead of the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow in November. He delivered his statement early on Friday morning while Biden, who had opened the summit, was not in the room.

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While other nations used their speaking slots to welcome the US back to global climate action after the setbacks and rancour of the Trump era, and to focus predominantly on the importance of cooperative, urgent, action, Morrison’s contribution struck a different tone.

With diplomatic pressure mounting on Australia to produce commitments commensurate with pledges from comparable countries, the prime minister’s speech was an implicit rebuttal of the consistent international criticism Australia faces after more than a decade of toxic partisanship about climate policy.

Morrison emphasised the country’s rapid rollout of solar and wind power, which has continued without an overarching federal energy policy, and said Australia was “on the pathway to net-zero” despite not joining the more than 100 countries who have formally adopted the target.

“Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can,” he said. “For Australia, it is not a question of if, or even by when, for net-zero but, importantly, how. That is why we are investing in priority new technology solutions, through our technology investment roadmap initiative”.

Morrison said Australia’s goal was to produce the cheapest “clean hydrogen” in the world, and claimed the transition to net-zero was being led by “pioneering” Australian companies, such as Fortescue, BHP and Rio Tinto, AGL and “so many more of all sizes”.

He said Australia was “committed to playing its part in making COP26 a success in Glasgow” and would deliver on its commitments. “You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable,” he said. “Future generations … will thank us not for what we have promised but what we deliver, and on that score Australia can always be relied upon.”

Morrison’s speech followed the leaders of the US, Japan and Canada all pledging much deeper cuts in emissions by 2030, and South Korea promising to stop financing coal power in overseas countries. Analysts said it left Australia trailing those countries on the measures that Morrison used to argue his government was pulling its weight, including the country’s emissions intensity, per capita carbon pollution and outright cuts.

Biden met expectations that he would promise to halve emissions this decade, setting a target of a 50-52% cut compared with 2005 – double the size of Australia’s target.

He opened the summit by declaring the world was in ‘the decisive decade” to keep global heating to 1.5C. “No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” he said from behind a podium in the White House. “All of us, and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”

The Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, set a new 2030 target for his country of a 46%-50% cut below 2013 levels, up from 26%. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister who is yet to make a significant dent in his country’s carbon pollution, promised a 40%-45% cut over that timeframe, having previously backed 30%.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, did not make new commitments as the US had hoped. The leader of the world’s largest emitting country reiterated his plan for Chinese emissions to peak by 2030 and for it to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, and said the country planned to start phasing down its coal consumption in the second half of the decade.

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One of the colourful interventions came from the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who confirmed the country’s new goal of a 78% emissions cut by 2035 compared with 1990, building on its 68% goal for 2030. He urged leaders to “get serious” and said it was vital they showed addressing the climate crisis was not “some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging” before volunteering there was northing wrong with bunny hugging.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called for a global coalition for net-zero emissions by 2050, and for major emitters to set out more ambitious carbon-cutting and finance plans in the next 10 years. He said only 18%-24% of pandemic recovery spending had been green, much less than was required, and repeated his call for a price on carbon, an end fossil fuel subsidies and for coal to be rapidly phased out.

An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker found the new US target was the greatest contribution yet by any major economy towards meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement of holding global heating well below 2C, but was not sufficient to meet the more ambitious aspiration of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

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