Scott Morrison says he’s not worried about major trading partners and allies committing to stronger climate change action, even as British leader Boris Johnson encourages Australia to do more to lower carbon emissions.
It comes as the Royal Commission into the nation’s bushfire crisis is handed down and will be publicly released on Friday, and fire survivors travelled to Canberra to beg the government to immediately take more drastic action on the climate emergency.
The European Union, Britain and South Korea have all committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, with China pledging to hit the target by 2060.
Mr Morrison has declined to commit his party to the same goal but says that under the terms of the Paris climate agreement, Australia would reach net zero some time in the second half of this century.
Anthony Albanese says Labor backs net-zero emissions by 2050.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister spoke with his British counterpart, Mr Johnson.
Both leaders’ offices supplied journalists with a ‘readout’ of their conversation, an approved summary of the topics discussed.
But curiosities were piqued in Canberra, with Mr Johnson’s office saying the British PM told Mr Morrison “we need bold action to address climate change” and “the importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero”.
However, Mr Morrison’s readout does not mention it – instead reporting Mr Johnson had “welcomed our significant increase in emissions reduction programs announced through the budget, and strongly endorsed our focus on unlocking practical pathways to reducing emissions”.
Mr Morrison’s office also said the leaders “agreed to work closely together to accelerate research and deployment of low-emission technologies”.
It’s not uncommon for leaders’ offices to produce slightly different accounts of how a conversation went, and the discrepancy is not evidence of any tricky behaviour.
But the differences between the readouts were noted by some as coming against a context of Mr Morrison not specifically committing to a net-zero target.
“I’d be surprised if the account that said that the United Kingdom wanted Australia to do more wasn’t correct,” Mr Albanese said.
“Action on climate change is something that’s recognised in terms of listening to the science. We’re getting through this pandemic because we’re listening to science.”
The Labor leader said he had had dinner with a number of European Union ambassadors just the night before, where the topic of climate was discussed.
“For those countries, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum, action on climate change isn’t a partisan issue,” Mr Albanese remarked.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne, asked about the readouts in a Senate estimates hearing, downplayed the discrepancy and said it wasn’t evidence of a slapdown from the British.
Mr Morrison said on Wednesday he was “not concerned” about Australia’s exports of coal or gas in the face of the net-zero commitments from major trading partners.
“We’ll set our policies here. We’ll set them. 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,” he said.
“I’m very aware of the many views that are held around the world … [Mr Johnson] totally understands Australia’s sovereignty when it comes to making these sovereign decisions about our future.”
Mr Morrison said Australia’s record “speaks for itself”, noting better emissions reductions than Canada and New Zealand.
Bushfire royal commission handed down
Mr Morrison’s comments on the phone call furore came just minutes after survivors of recent catastrophic bushfires had assembled on the front lawn of Parliament House, asking for more action on climate change.
More than a dozen members of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action group, many of whom had lost homes in huge blazes, assembled on the day the Royal Commission into natural disaster arrangements was handed to the Governor-General.
Mr Albanese has called for it to be made public as soon as possible, but Disaster Management Minister David Littleproud said the report would be kept under wraps until Friday “in order to provide the Commonwealth, states and territories time to consider the report’s findings.”
Jack Egan, whose home near Batemans Bay was burnt down on New Year’s Eve, said he hoped to see stronger climate action from state and federal governments.
“It’s a life and death issue,” Mr Egan said.
“We need immediate reductions in emissions, and to move to clean energy. To see any politician supporting new coal or gas is just fanning the flames.”
Mr Egan told The New Daily that politicians needed to outline stronger commitments and plans to address climate-charged natural disasters.
“Climate change is here. We need to step up to help ourselves,” he said.
“If the pot’s boiling over on the stove, you can mop up the overflow but you’re not going to solve the problem unless you turn the heat down. That’s what effective climate action is. It’s not just adaptation.”