Advisor to prime minister Scott Morrison and former chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia – who gave Morrison the lump of coal subsequently brandished in parliament – has been appointed as Australia’s new ambassador to the OECD.
Brendan Pearson currently serves as a senior advisor to prime minister Scott Morrison on international trade and has been involved in Australia’s international engagements on climate and energy policies.
The appointment of a staunch advocate for coal, in Pearson, as Australia’s permanent representative to the OECD will likely see Australia ramp up its efforts to stymie international cooperation on addressing climate change, including continued opposition to commitments around the phase out of coal or ending public subsidies for fossil fuels.
Pearson served as a senior advisor to then finance minister Mathias Cormann, before he moved into an advisor role in Morrison’s office following the 2019 federal election.
Cormann has since won election as secretary-general of the OECD, meaning that Pearson and Cormann will be reunited at the economic forum based in Paris.
The OECD, which represents 38 of the world’s most advanced economies – and more than one-third of global emissions – serves as an important forum for international economic cooperation, and climate change has emerged as a key issue on the forum’s agenda.
However, the installation of an unabashed advocate for the expansion of the fossil fuel industry suggests that the Morrison government is not particularly keen on embracing any form of international leadership on climate policy any time soon.
Pearson has long served as a long-time advocate for the fossil fuel industry, having also served in a senior executive position with Peabody Energy, and was famously pushed out as executive director of the Minerals Council of Australia due to his openly pro-coal stance.
Under Pearson’s leadership, the Minerals Council became a vocal advocate for Australia’s coal industry, and Pearson led the lobby group’s efforts to oppose the mining ‘super profits’ tax and the carbon price mechanisms introduced by the former Labor government.
These campaigns became too much for resources giant BHP, which successfully used its clout within the industry body to oust Pearson in 2017.
Pearson landed in a ministerial advisory position just six months later, eventually working for both Cormann and Morrison.
Cormann’s campaign for the secretary-general position attracted outspoken criticism from a number of Australian and international environmental groups, who argued that Cormann was an inappropriate choice to hold such a senior diplomatic post given his opposition to stronger climate policies while a minister in the federal parliament.
After a concerted diplomatic effort, which included Australian taxpayers footing the bill for $380,000 worth of flights across Europe – at a time when many Australian citizens are stuck overseas – Cormann successfully won election to the OECD post.
The OECD recently took a swipe at Australia’s energy and climate policies in a new economic assessment. The assessment found that Australia’s economic progress was being stymied by a lack of coherent national policies on climate change and a failure to set a clear target for reaching net zero emissions.
Reacting to the appointment, the Australia Institute’s climate and energy director, Richie Merzian said that the signal it sent to the rest of the world was clear.
“Right when Australia’s allies are pushing the OECD to end export financing for coal power, the Morrison Government’s objectives are on full display with the appointment of a coal lobbyist as Australia’s representative at the OECD. This appointment will only serve to drive Australia’s climate credentials further backwards,” Merzian said.
“The Australian Government already has a reputation as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry and the appointment of a fossil fuel lobbyist to represent Australia at the OECD in Paris does little more than cement this growing global perception. Mr Pearson not only has a history of exaggerating the benefits of coal and ignoring its costs, but he oversaw one of Australia’s great public relations backfires, the 2015 ‘coal is amazing’ ads.”
Pearson will replace Dr Alexander Robson as the OECD permanent representative, a senior bureaucrat and academic who served as chief economics adviser to then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.