Climate talks chief urges Morrison to act


The minister in charge of next month’s crunch Glasgow climate summit has challenged Australia to nearly double its 2030 emissions reduction target and urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to attend the talks in person.

Alok Sharma, the president of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, framed Morrison’s participation as a test of Australia’s friendship with Britain, warning the ravages of global warming cannot be avoided unless world leaders make Glasgow their top priority.

“I would dearly love the Australian Prime Minister to come,” Sharma said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“I can understand that every leader will have to take into account what is going on domestically but COP26 really matters and we want to see as many world leaders as possible.

“You’re some of our closest mates in the world, and we need you by our side to demonstrate the unity of purpose that is going to be really essential at this summit.”

Sharma, a cabinet minister who was elevated to the COP26 presidency by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this year, has been rallying support for a new pact that would bind the world to deeper emissions cuts, a faster phase-out of coal and more cash for poorer nations.

Morrison has not decided whether to fly to Glasgow but is preparing to take to cabinet and backbench MPs a formal policy of net-zero emissions by 2050. He is also under pressure to lift Australia’s existing goal of cutting pollution by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, although that will be much harder to find agreement on.

Warning the world was at a “critical juncture”, Sharma said embracing net zero by 2050 was not enough. He cited the UK’s goal of slashing dangerous carbon emissions by at least 68 percent by 2030 and Japan’s promise of a 46 to 50 percent cut.

“Australia is a major world economy,” Sharma said. “And if you compare to where other major world economies are, I hope that we could get to 45 to 50 percent from Australia.

“That would mean they’d be comparable with other major economies in the world.”

Labour took a 45 percent target by 2030 to the 2019 federal election – a policy the government claimed would take a “wrecking ball” to the economy. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has since called Labor’s pledge “a mistake”.

But the NSW Liberal government last week promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, building on the same policy unveiled by the Victorian Labour government earlier this year.

Sharma said he has had candid conversations with the Australian government over the need to make much deeper cuts before the end of the decade.

“I say to them basically what I say to everyone, which is that we need to do more. If we want to ensure that we are at a point of net zero by the middle of the century, then we have to have ambitious 2030 emission-reduction targets which align with that goal.”

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August found a 45 percent cut by 2030 was essential to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. “But on the current trajectory, we will see an increase of 16 percent in emissions by 2030 rather than a reduction,” Sharma said.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Australia would take part in the COP26 summit and had a strong record of “meeting and beating” its emissions reduction commitments.

“We are working closely with the UK on the technology advances that will be needed for the world to transition to a net zero economy. Technology not taxes is the way to tackle climate change, keep the lights on and keep people in jobs. This will continue to be at the heart of Australia’s response.”

The government has promised to release an updated 2030 projection and its long-term strategy ahead of the Glasgow meeting.

The more ambitious action from NSW and Victoria could help the government lift its 2030 target of a 26 to 28 percent cut to something approaching 35 percent, but the politics within the Coalition is fraught and most cabinet ministers still do not know what Morrison is planning just three weeks out from the Glasgow summit.

Sharma said the urgency of the climate crisis warranted bold decisions from Australia.

“Australia is a great friend, and I really want one of my closest mates to come to my party and I want them to sing the same songs,” he said.

“And that in a climate context means more ambition on cutting emissions and it means more support in terms of financing for developing countries.”

Asked whether it was possible to achieve net-zero emissions without a price on carbon – which Morrison and Albanese are opposed to – Sharma stressed the international landscape was shifting rapidly.

“I mean, even China now has an emissions trading scheme,” he said.

“It is internationally acknowledged that countries are going to have to domestically and internationally address the whole issue of carbon pricing and carbon leakage – every country will have to get there.

“And so my advice to any country is to start to think about this now.”

Sharma also thanked the Morrison government and Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor for assisting Pacific islands attendees with travel to the Glasgow event.

More than 20,000 people are expected to arrive in the Scottish city during the first two weeks of November.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made climate change a key plank of his leadership.

Johnson recently said the gathering would be held “in the full glare of the global spotlight”.

“And when the summit ends, when most of the world has committed to decisive, game-changing action, it will be clear to all which of us has lacked the courage to step up,” he said.

“The world will see, and your people will remember, and history will judge,” he said.