Mathias Cormann has defended his bid for the top job at the OECD as backlash from leading climate change experts and environmental groups grows.
Mr Cormann’s defence comes as renowned United States climatologist Michael E. Mann urged the OECD and Joe Biden’s administration to reject Mr Cormann’s bid to be its next secretary-general.
In extensive comments to The New Daily, Mr Cormann pushed back against the criticism and pledged to address climate change if selected.
He argued that as OECD boss he would “progress ambitious and effective action on climate change”.
“Action on climate change, to be effective, requires an ambitious, globally co-ordinated approach,” he said.
“That has always been my view. In fact, that was already my publicly stated view back in 2007, when I gave my first speech in the Australian Senate and it has been my view ever since.”
Mr Cormann said the Paris Agreement targets were a foundation to build upon and not “a limit on our ambition to do more sooner.”
As secretary-general he would back ambitious action on climate change, helping countries around the world achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050, he said.
“Different countries will have different means of contributing to the global emissions reduction effort,” Mr Cormann said.
“Australia for example is in a prime position to export clean energy to the world, for example through the development of a world-leading hydrogen industry.”
Cormann a ‘climate inactivist”: Mann
But Mr Cormann’s candidacy has been met with criticism from scientists and environmental groups who say his record on climate change is not strong enough.
Professor Mann, who is currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said Mr Cormann was a “climate inactivist” – someone who talked the talk but walked the opposite way on meaningful action.
“He presumably recognises there is an expectation of climate leadership given that [current Secretary-General Angel Gurria] has had a very strong record on climate,” Professor Mann said.
“But the reality is that only a year ago, he criticised the Labor Party as “extremist” and “irresponsible” for expressing the same goal (carbon neutrality by mid-century) that he now claims to support. He insisted that this would hurt the economy.”
Mr Cormann is close to winning the prized role after two candidates dropped out, leaving just him and Swedish politician and former EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström in the race.
Professor Mann said the world was “at a crossroads” to avoid catastrophic planetary warming of 1.5C and must bring carbon emissions down by a factor of two within the next 10 years globally.
“That will require a monumental effort in the years ahead, and it is critical that OECD is on board in assisting in that effort,” he said.
“Given Cormann’s history of promoting climate inactivism (and his rather newfound “religion” when it comes to climate action) we just cannot afford someone like him heading the OECD at this critical juncture.”
Mr Cormann has the full support of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has promoted his credentials in calls with other international counterparts. His candidacy is also supported by Labor.
Mr Morrison raised Mr Cormann’s OECD ambitions in a congratulatory phone call to US President Joe Biden on his election victory and, according to the Lowy Institute, the US is likely to back Mr Cormann as a candidate.
Professor Mann said this would cast a shadow on President Biden’s commitment to serious action on climate change.
Sadly, it would call into question the Biden administration’s stated commitment to tackling the climate crisis,” he said.
Mr Cormann’s opposition to climate pricing, renewable energy targets, and a green bank while serving in government has raised concern among influential environmental and humanitarian groups.
On Friday, 26 groups from around the world signed an open letter to Christopher Shamrock, chair of the OECD’s selection committee, urging him not to pick Mr Cormann.
The letter warns that Mr Cormann would be unlikely to play an effective role in advocating for ambitious action in reducing emissions among OECD nations.
David Ritter, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, which was one of the signatories, said Mr Cormann should be judged on his record.
“Many in the Australian climate and environmental movement are mystified that Mr Cormann’s candidacy has proceeded this far,” Mr Ritter said.
“He has been a central actor in the climate change denying, ecologically destructive government, and is now trying to act like he wasn’t in the room.
“It’s only fair he is judged on what he did.”