CANBERRA: Australia's government confirmed Thursday (Sep 9) that it refused to allow climate change goals to be written into a proposed free trade deal with Britain, as pressure mounts on it to make more ambitious commitments to cut carbon emissions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the trade deal under negotiation with Britain was not the document to include UN goals to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“It wasn’t a climate agreement; it was a trade agreement,” Morrison said.
“In trade agreements, I deal with trade issues. In climate agreements, I deal with climate issues,” he added.
British ministers had agreed to bow to pressure from Australia to drop binding commitments to the Paris climate change agreement from the bilateral trade deal, Sky News reported citing an email from an unnamed British official sent last month.
The report angered environmentalists who questioned Britain’s commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of hosting a UN climate summit, known as COP26, in Scotland in November.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said climate targets were “never part of free trade agreements that Australia enters into".
“This agreement recognises we’re signed up to Paris and that we’ll meet our Paris targets, which we will do hands down,” Tehan told Radio 4BC.
“We got a fantastic outcome both for Australia and the UK in that FTA, which we’re seeking to finalise at the moment,” Tehan added, referring to a free trade agreement.
Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world's largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas.
The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt said in a statement on Thursday that coal remained Australia’s largest export after iron ore and “that won’t be changing any time soon".
This followed UN Special Adviser on Climate Change Selwin Hart this week urging Australia to phase out coal.
Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 ahead of climate talks in Glasgow.
The conservative government aims to reduce emissions to net-zero and preferably by 2050, but won’t commit to that target.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese accused Morrison of holding Australia back on renewable energy opportunities to create jobs and reduce energy prices.
“The Paris commitments are something that Australia has signed up to, but which Australia continues to sit in the naughty corner with the rest of the world,” Albanese said.
“The whole world has signed up to net-zero emissions by 2050. Scott Morrison continues to be a recalcitrant when it comes to climate change action,” Albanese added.
Greenpeace executive David Ritter accused Australia of “diplomatic bullying to weaken the global climate effort".
“The Morrison government is resorting to sleazy backroom deals and pressure tactics to shirk the commitments it has made to the world on climate change,” Ritter said in a statement.
Jonathan Pershing, deputy to US presidential climate envoy John Kerry, told a climate forum last month it would be “really helpful” if Australia were more ambitious in reducing emissions.