Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has challenged his successor Scott Morrison to attend the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow, saying that “his absence will send a pretty strong message about his priorities”.
Speaking during a virtual address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Turnbull said the Glasgow talks would be a “critical conference” for global cooperation on climate change and that Australia had to show leadership.
“History is made by those who turn up,” Turnbull told the National Press Club.
“As [UN Secretary General] Antonio Guterres said just the other day, we’re on track to 2.7 [degrees] heating. That’s catastrophic.”
“The commitments to reduce emissions so far received are inadequate. This is a crisis.”
Turnbull said that the world needed to looking to phase out the use of fossil fuels and criticised those within the Morrison government that have called for an expansion of Australia’s coal and gas production.
“This is an existential crisis, and we have to cut our emissions. We have to stop burning coal and gas,” Turnbull said.
“It troubles me that we still have this nonsense from the government of a gas led recovery. We’ve got to be getting out of coal and out of gas.”
“You’ve got minister saying, we’re going to be burning coal forever. Well, you know what? If we burn coal forever, the planet’s going to be fried.”
Turnbull, who attended the Paris climate talks when PM, said that he would attend the COP26 talks in Glasgow, through his leadership positions with Fortescue Future Industries, the Green Hydrogen Organisation and the International Hydropower Association.
Morrison has downplayed prospects that he would attend the climate talks in a little over a month’s time, citing the ongoing logistical challenges of international travel and his recent trip to the United States to meet with a number of world leaders.
Around 100 world leaders are expected to attend the COP26 talks, including US president Joe Biden, UK prime minister Boris Johnson, French president Emmanuel Macron as well as Queen Elizabeth and Pope Francis.
Turnbull endorsed the commitment from the NSW Government to a 50 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030, announced earlier in the day, saying that Australia’s national target should be on par with that level of commitment.
“We need to both lead by example. We need to make much stronger cuts to our emissions,” Turnbull said. We should be updating our 2030 target – that was always the intention to update these targets every five years – and I’m very disappointed the government has not done that all.”
“There are plenty of scientists that will say it should be as high as 70 per cent. But certainly, it should be at least 50 per cent. Forty-five to 50 per cent. That is actually very doable.”
Turnbull said that one of the main challenges facing Australia’s transition to a lower emissions energy system was not its ability to build enough wind and solar capacity but to ensure there was enough long-term duration storage to back it up.
“We’ve got the climate crisis. But the crisis within that is that we are not building enough long-duration storage. And given the best form of that, for long-duration storage, as opposed to short-duration like batteries, is pumped hydro,” Turnbull said.
“You can build a solar farm in months. You can build a wind farm in a year or so. But to build a pumped hydro scheme takes time because of the civil engineering and the permitting. Every site is different, but you’ve just got to get cracking with it.”
If Morrison decides not to go to the Glasgow talks, it will likely leave federal energy minister Angus Taylor as the most senior member of Australia’s delegation.
Taylor only attended part of the last climate change talks – held in Madrid in 2019 – leaving the talks while Australian negotiators were in a heated battle over a controversial plan to use carryover surplus Kyoto Protocol credits into the Paris Agreement.