On Friday it was confirmed that Australia has not been offered a speaking slot at the Climate United Nations’ Ambition Summit. This should not come as a surprise.
The Climate Ambition Summit is, as the name would suggest, all about climate ambition – where Australia is decidedly lacking. Earlier this week, Australia was ranked second last on climate policy (better only than Trump’s America) in the Climate Change Performance Index, while the United Nation’s Production Gap Report pointed the finger at major fossil fuel producers like Australia that are increasing production when we can ill afford more coal mines or gas fields.
What is surprising is that Prime Minister Morrison was not able to get a speaking slot through other means. Not being invited to the party is one thing, but not getting an invite after your parents have called their parents is a different thing entirely. Countries like Australia can often get their name on the list through the people they know rather than what they bring to the table. In staying firm and refusing Australia a seat, Boris Johnson has sided with the climate over one of its closest allies.
This is a clear message that the United Kingdom is taking its upcoming COP26 presidency seriously. The United Kingdom is currently losing a bunch of its closest friends in mainland Europe while simultaneously attempting to negotiate a trade deal with its colonial chum Australia. It has many reasons to offer Australia a mate’s deal ticket to the Ambition Summit, making its decision not to all the more astounding. The message is clear. The United Kingdom won’t let its lazy laggard friends come to the party.
When Morrison broke the news to the parliament on Thursday, he appeared unfazed. Like a sad schoolboy declaring ‘I didn’t even want to go anyway’ Morrison’s cool demeanour is no doubt a protective guise. Any onlooker attuned to the sensibilities of a child can feel a tantrum brewing. The United Nations surely can. That is why they came equipped with lines, prepared to defend their decision not to add countries like Australia to the speaking list. While declining to comment on ‘individual leaders’, Selwin Hart, the special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on climate action, said “speaking slots would go to countries and other actors who show the most ambition right now.”
Morrison’s language – labelling the United Nation’s Climate Ambition Summit ‘some international summit’, is carefully chosen. It is reminiscent of the language he used in 2018 to denounce the Green Climate Fund on talk-back radio, stating that he would not “go and tip money into that big climate fund” and “on global climate conferences and all that sort of nonsense.” His staged ambivalence to climate diplomacy is a sign of Australia’s growing dissonance with the international community’s climate position. Australia’s rejection from the Climate Ambition Summit is the culmination of years of slagging off the international climate process and architecture.
With an (involuntarily) free diary this week, the Prime Minister will instead turn to tonight’s Pacific Island Forum (PIF) to spruik his climate achievements. Luckily the Australian government is a member of the PIF, so its invitation is by default not based on merit. But Morrison would be wise not to equate an invite with a warm welcome. Amongst the additional invitees are the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Norway and all come baring greater climate credentials than Australia. Simply not using Kyoto credits to meet its Paris commitments won’t cut it with this crowd, particularly after Morrison ignored the recent calls of Pacific Island Leaders to actually cancel the Kyoto credits, commit to net zero emissions, double Australia’s NDC and recommit to the Green Climate Fund.
To defend his climate inaction, Morrison stated ‘the only people I answer to in this place is the Australia people, and our government stands to serve the Australian people’. If only this were true. The vast majority of Australians want action on climate change, as consistently shown in the Climate of the Nation Reports tracking Australian’s attitudes to climate change. If Scott Morrison truly answered to the Australia people, he would have already introduced climate policies ambitious enough to get Australia an invite to this week’s summit. Instead, the Morrison Government’s recalcitrance to climate ambition is in direct opposition to the wishes of the Australian people that he purports to serve.
Australia’s snubbing from this week’s event is just the beginning. If Australia continues its anti-climate action trajectory, it can expect to remain on the periphery- isolated on the cold silver seats of the school yard whilst the rest of the world bands together, united by climate ambition.
With international friends in short supply and a climate record placing him firmly on the ‘naughty’ list, Morrison can expect little more than a lump of coal for Christmas. And while he might pretend like that is exactly what he wanted, we all know it isn’t.
Richie Merzian heads the Climate & Energy Program at The Australia Institute and is a former climate negotiator for the Australian Government.