- Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne has refused to say if the Morrison government ‘welcomes’ commitments from Australia’s major trading partners to zero emissions by 2050 targets, telling Senate estimates that the government merely ‘acknowledges’ the targets and that they would have no bearing on Australia’s domestic climate change policies.
In the last few weeks, China, Japan and South Korea have all confirmed commitments to reaching zero net emissions, with the three countries representing some of Australia’s largest customers for coal and gas exports.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has insisted the decisions will not change Australian policy, despite the obvious observation by analysts that Australia’s fossil fuel exports depend on their being customers, and now the overwhelming majority of those customers have set zero emissions targets.
Government ministers even called for a boycott on Thursday of ANZ for pursing its own net zero target and announcing it would assess climate risk in its lending decisions.
Payne, meanwhile stone walled on the international policy decisions.
“Those announcements made by other countries, we acknowledge, they are a matter for them, and we are focused on meeting our Paris commitments,” Payne told senate estimates on Thursday. “It is not for us to welcome or not welcome them. They are matters for those countries.”
When pressed further by opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, Payne refused to clarify the response.
“The foreign minister of Australia’s official response, to two major trading partners, two countries with whom we have such strong diplomatic, economic and strategic relationships, making a commitment to net-zero by 2050, is that we ‘acknowledge’ it?” Wong asked.
“We acknowledge the decisions that other countries make in relation to their own plans, and we are very focused on our own commitments, our commitment to the Paris Agreement and our commitment meeting the pledges we have made through that and the actions we are taking ” Payne answered.
With the US presidential election to be held next week, there is a genuine prospect that a successful Joe Biden candidacy would see the United States added to the list of countries embracing a net-zero emissions by 2050 target.
However, Payne echoed Morrison, saying that the policies of other countries would not factor into the setting of Australia’s own emissions reduction targets.
“The prime minister was very clear yesterday in terms of how Australia’s priorities will be set. They’ll be set here, where you would expect them to be, not, as he said yesterday, in the UK or Brussels or any other part of the world,” Payne said.
In response to questions during senate estimates, Payne also refused to confirm that the Morrison government would be outlining a long term emissions reduction target during the current term of government.
During the senate estimates hearing, Payne consistently pointed to Australia’s requirements under the Paris Agreement, which will require a new 2035 emissions reduction target to be set before 2025, but suggested the government would not be setting any target beyond that.
“So you’ve seen governments around the world commit to net-zero by 2050. Your government, at this stage as I understand it, has not committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Correct?” Wong queried.
“As I’ve said senator, the government is committed to the goal to limit global emissions to net zero in the second half of the century.”
Australia’s lead climate change negotiator, Jamie Isbister, also confirmed that Australia remains the only country that is seeking to use surplus credits from the Kyoto Protocol, from an overachievement of Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction target, towards meeting its 2030 target.
“At this stage, Australia is the only country that has indicated an intention to utilise [carryover credits],” Isbister told senate estimates.
Australia was criticised for contributing to delays in the finalisation of the 2019 round of international climate, held in Madrid, as it sought to secure the right to use surplus credits under the Paris Agreement.
Isbister denied that Australia was isolated when it came to a refusal to adopt a net-zero emissions target by 2050, saying that while 37 countries, including many of Australia’s largest trading partners, had committed to such a target, many had not.
“There are 37 countries that have submitted 2050 net-zero targets, either through their long term strategies or through their [Nationally Determined Contributions]. There’s more that’s expressed an intention, but that’s the formal number that’s actually put it through to the UNFCCC,” Isbister said.
Isbister confirmed that the Morrison government would communicate a long term “strategy” for reducing emissions, but this is unlikely to include an updated emissions reduction target.
“We’ll release our long term strategy that will contribute to global emissions by net-zero by the second half of this century, before COP26.”
COP26, the next round of international climate talks, is scheduled to be held in Glasgow next year, after being postponed due to Covid-19.
Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor is expected to present the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap as part of Australia’s ‘long term’ emissions reduction plan but is unlikely to announce more ambitious emissions reduction targets.