Richie Merzian: The regrets Prime Minister Scott Morrison will have at G7

The G7 made a pact to ditch coal to combat climate change – Australia didn't. Now Scott Morrison must face up.

The G7 made a pact to ditch coal to combat climate change – Australia didn't. Now Scott Morrison must face up. Photo: TND

“I sort of call this the Frank Sinatra approach” Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently told mining executives at the Minerals Council of Australia annual dinner.

“We’re going to do it ‘our way’ … Australia is going to lead the world in low-emissions production in the resources sector,” the PM continued, explaining the diplomatic tactic he intends to take to the G7 summit in Cornwall, UK this week.

“We understand the important role gas will play, particularly over the next 30 years and more. We’re all for it.”

The Prime Minister is optimistic if he legitimately thinks he will be applauded by world leaders for his rendition of Sinatra’s anthem of self-determination.

In truth he is more likely to find himself quietly singing Sinatra’s lesser-known A Man Alone.

As well as a global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change will also feature prominently on the G7 summit agenda. In fact, it is likely that the summit is going to see some of the strongest diplomatic language on climate change we have seen to date.

As UN Climate Chief, Patricia Espinosa noted: “The decisions G7 nations make in the next few weeks will have a major impact on whether nations achieve success at COP26 [end-of-year UN climate conference], make a truly green recovery from COVID-19, and eventually reach their long-term climate goals under the Paris agreement.”

Scott Morrison will find regrets at G7

More than other years, 2021 is the year of climate action.

US President Joe Biden has changed the dynamic of global climate politics since taking office in January, emboldening other nations to follow suit both in word and in deed.

This week the Australian UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell told media that the UK has “made very clear that climate change is our No.1 foreign policy priority”.

Already, all G7 nations have agreed collectively to deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They have also agreed to stop international financing of coal projects by the end of this year and have increased their short-term ambition this decade.

There is even talk that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will use the summit as an opportunity to discuss an alliance to develop a co-ordinated approach to implementing carbon border tariffs: or, to put it bluntly, taxing the carbon-heavy goods that cross the border from places like Australia.

The sector most at risk, according to Australia Institute research, would be goods like aluminium – mainly made for export and made using a lot of carbon pollution.

Scott Morrison Boris johnson G7

Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in France in August 2019.

Australia the odd one out

The G7 summit is all about ambition and action: Actual ambition and actual action.

Those countries attending, even as guests, that don’t pull their weight will find themselves in a very uncomfortable position.

So with that in mind, let’s look at what PM Scott Morrison intends to bring to the table at the G7 ‘his way’.

In terms of climate ambition, Australia has, and continues to be, criticised internationally for having none. Its emissions are rising in every sector of the economy , despite recent claims by the government that they’ve fallen 19 per cent.

While almost all other nations increased their 2030 pledges in April this year at the Leaders Summit on Climate, Mr Morrison remained steadfastly committed to a climate-warming 26 to 28 per cent cut in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.

Unlike all our G7 hosts, Australia is embarrassingly yet to commit to net zero by 2050.

Despite a global push for decarbonisation and recent advice from the International Energy Agency that all investment in fossil fuel production and coal power needs to end this year, Mr Morrison is dedicating billions in taxpayer dollars to increase Australia’s exports of coal and gas.

Australia is in the process of approving more than 20 new coal mines, opening enormous new gas fields in New South Wales and the Northern Territory and is still exploring for new oil reserves that are all going to be completely unprofitable.

To justify this, the Prime Minister is telling Australians that there is a market for our fossil fuels despite our top coal and gas customers Japan, China and South Korea all pledging net-zero targets.

Magnified on the world stage

How will all this be received by Mr Biden, who has committed $US2 trillion (yes, trillion) to a ‘transformational’ infrastructure plan to accelerate the United States’ fight against climate change?

How will it be received by PM Johnson, who has committed £11.6 billion ($21.2 billion) to international climate finance?

How will it be received by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has committed €5.5 billion ($4.4 billion) of funding for electric-car charging infrastructure alone?

The flawed climate science of the ‘Frank Sinatra approach’ aside, diplomatically, Mr Morrison is threatening to alienate and embarrass Australia on the global stage with his refusal to take Australia into a low carbon future.

Mr Morrison’s lack of action will not only damage our relationships with key allies and major trading partners, it’s going to do very real harm to the Australian economy and the Australian people.

Regrets … the Prime Minister is going to have more than a few.

Richie Merzian is the climate & energy program director at independent think tank, the Australia Institute. Follow him on Twitter @RichieMerzian

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