Behind closed doors: Australia pushes reputation as world’s leading fossil fuel dealer

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Scott Morrison opts to spend time touring a US box factory owned by a Liberal Party donor, instead of attending the UN climate leaders summit in New York.

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AAP Image/Lukas Coch
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has opted to spend his time with US President Donald Trump to take a tour of a box factory owned by a Liberal Party donor, instead of attending the UN climate leaders summit in New York – not surprising as new documents reveal the extent to which the Australian government has openly embraced its position as the world’s dealer of fossil fuels.

New documents obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation obtained under a freedom of information request have shown that Australian Government officials are openly lobbying other countries to increase the use of Australian coal.

The documents detail how coal was the focus of meetings between Australian officials and representatives in Vietnam and Bangladesh and were aimed at propping up demand for coal with traditional customers like China looking elsewhere.

The goal of the meetings was to “partially mitigate declining [coal] exports elsewhere, notably China”, with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science encouraging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make coal the focus of the meeting with Vietnam officials.

“Our government is trashing Australia’s international reputation because of its addiction to polluting coal,” ACF climate change campaigner Christian Slattery said.

“As major importers of Australian coal transition to cleaner forms of energy, the Morrison Government is doing the industry’s bidding by trying to push more coal on other markets.”

It is because of this kind of pro-coal advocacy that Australia has been refused an invitation, along with several other countries lagging behind the transition away from fossil fuels, to speak at this week’s United Nations leaders’ summit on climate change in New York.

Analysis published by Climate Analytics in July found that current projections show that Australia is on track to emerge as the world’s largest dealer of greenhouse gas emitting fuels, as Australia continues to push coal and gas while much of the world transitions to cleaner sources of energy.

While many world leaders and climate action campaigners are converging on New York to encourage countries to lift their ambition on climate change, the Australian Prime Minister will instead be spending the week with US President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has sent a wrecking ball through measures to tackle climate change and has worked to repeal numerous Obama era statutes dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, has threatened States like California who have sought to push ahead on vehicle emissions standards and has instigated the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement.

Even before the rebuke refusing Australia a speaking role, Morrison had no intention of attending the climate summit.

While events ramp up in New York, following a massive turn out for Climate Strike rallies across the world, Morrison will instead join Trump on a tour of a box factory in Ohio. The factory has been established by Visy Paper, which is owned by Australian, and Liberal Party donor Anthony Pratt.

“Australia’s reported blocking by the UN Secretary-General from speaking at the special climate summit in New York is nothing short of an embarrassment for a wealthy country like ours that prides itself on being a good international citizen,” Slattery added.

“Australia is taking increasing hits to our international reputation for being a climate laggard. Only last month the Morrison Government suffered another stern rebuke from our friends in the Pacific for its continued intransigence on stopping climate pollution.”

The new revelations of the Australian Government’s work to encourage other countries to continue using Australian fossil fuels further undermine the arguments from federal energy minister Angus Taylor, who claims Australia’s fossil fuel exports are leading to overall reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Taylor repeated the assertion on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, claiming that Australia’s LNG exports were replacing dirtier sources of energy in countries like Japan and South Korea, while pushing Australia’s own emissions higher.

Taylor’s claims have been disputed, as there is little evidence to show that natural gas use leads to any substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the countries that Taylor has cited and conveniently ignores the fact that Australia is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of even dirtier coal.

The argument also doesn’t stack up with international commitments, including the Paris Agreement, for the world to reach zero net emissions.

While the Australian Government will effectively be missing in action throughout the UN climate leaders summit, members of the Australian business community have been stepping in to fill the cap.

Australian tech-giant Atlassian has announced that it has set its own zero emissions target, ensuring all of the company’s operations, including its supply chain, will reach zero net emissions no later than 2050.

Co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, who has been vocal about the need for Australia to embrace the clean energy transition said it was crucial that businesses and governments alike seized the opportunity to ramp up their climate ambition.

“The world is here to address a burning issue. We know that we have to do our bit to reduce our impact on the planet. If we don’t, we’re cooked,” Cannon-Brookes said.

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