As the second week of the COP26 UN climate summit kicks off, a top UK climate advisor has launched a scathing criticism of Australia’s emissions ambitions, labelling them “a great disappointment.”
Lord Deben, chair of the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee, said Australia’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 did not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis.
"(It is) a great disappointment to the rest of the world that so good a country with so much history should have been so much behind on these issues," he told ABC radio on Monday.
“Already the British-Australian trade deal is under huge pressure in this country, because we don't see why we should be importing from Australia unless Australia meets the same standards.
“And what was so disappointing for us was the way it appears that your prime minister really doesn't understand the urgency of what we have to do," he said.
“It’s difficult for Australia but Australia's really got to get on with it just like every other country.”
Lord Deben accused the Morrison government of having no concrete plan to reduce emissions by 2030.
“When Scott Morrison tried to explain what he was going to do between now and 2030, it was just a whole series of words,” Lord Deben said.
“You cannot go forward without signing up to eliminating coal. We can't go on using coal.”
A pledge to shift away from coal, signed by 40 countries, did not receive Australia’s support at the climate summit.
And along with Russia, China and India, Australia did not join the more than 100 countries that signed a pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
Mr Morrison refused to lift Australia's 2030 emissions reduction target and is instead relying on updated projections of a 30 to 35 per cent cut this decade.
Climate activists attend a protest organised by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow, Scotland. Source: AP
“The fact is that unless we keep the temperature down to a 1.5 increase, we're going to have large numbers of people in the world whose whole lives and countries are going to be destroyed,” Lord Deben said.
“We either take the steps now, or we leave ourselves into a position in which we will have destroyed other people's lives.”
It's not the first time Lord Deben has singled out Australia for its approach to climate change.
In October, he said there was no indication that Mr Morrison had a plan in place to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050, despite a commitment to do so being “squeezed out of him”.
In 2015 he said former prime minister Tony Abbott’s 2030 target – which remains under the current government – was “pathetic”.
“Global warming won’t wait for Mr Abbott and his government. Mr Abbott’s hubris is staggering,” he said.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt. Source: AAP
Resources Minister Keith Pitt has defended Australia’s approach to the climate crisis and ruled out closing coal mines.
“We need to stick to the facts... Australia produces just four per cent of the world's thermal coal,” Mr Pitt told ABC Radio.
“It's some of the world's highest quality, and that's why we'll continue to have markets for decades into the future. And if they're buying, we are selling."
Mr Pitt said the government will invest in new technologies that will lower emissions and support the economy.
"We expect to see changes over a period of time, as we've seen with iPhones and other types of technology,” he said.
“We won't be destroying the Australian economy to deliver on something 30 or 40 years before we've made a commitment to it."
It comes as the prime minister said on Monday he wants to use hydrogen to prolong coal-fired power.
The coalition is spending $1.5 million on a feasibility study for a "clean hydrogen" hub at Newcastle including to support emissions-intensive industries.
"It is the future fuel, whether it's how it produces ammonia ... which can be used in coal-fired power plants, not just here but all around the rest of the world," the prime minister told reporters in Newcastle.
"It is the fuel that can charge up our big mining trucks and get them operating, it can power vehicles to travel over extremely long distances."
"Clean hydrogen" is produced using fossil fuels and relies on much-criticised carbon capture and storage technology.
The government is providing half of the funding for the hydrogen study backed by the Port of Newcastle and the Macquarie Group's green investment subsidiary.
Key aspects of the Nationals' agreement for net-zero, including a future fund for regional and rural Australia, are yet to be detailed.
Meanwhile, NSW, South Australia and the ACT launched a net-zero emissions policy forum to tackle climate hurdles with comparative governments around the world.
"Greenhouse gas emissions do not recognise borders, and to tackle climate change we need a globally collaborative approach and that is what this forum is about," NSW Treasurer Matt Kean said.