Why Scott Morrison won't be speaking at a climate ambition summit this weekend

Global leaders will speak at a climate summit this weekend to announce 'ambitious' new commitments against climate change - but Prime Minister Scott Morrison won't be on the speaking list.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed an agriculture visa in 2018 but later said the expansion of existing migration programs meant there was no longer a need. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has downplayed an apparent snub after failing to secure a speaking slot at an upcoming global climate summit. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting the virtual summit on 12 December, with the United Nations urging speakers to make “ambitious” new commitments against global warming. 

The summit marks five years since the signing of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. 

Mr Morrison told parliament earlier this week the summit would be a chance to “correct mistruths” about Australia’s emissions reduction strategy. 

The prime minister on Friday attempted to downplay the significance of not receiving a speaking invitation at the event.

“There are many countries that are not speaking, I mean New Zealand’s not speaking either,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“Australia’s policy when it comes to reducing emissions is set here in Australia - in Australia’s national interest - and our responsibility is to set that in a way that is consistent with the demands and needs and views of the Australian people and the science that supports that.”

Ahead of the summit, Mr Morrison had flagged his ambition to meet Australia’s carbon emission targets under the Paris Agreement without relying on carryover credits from past climate change agreements. 

The federal government recently released updated national greenhouse gas emissions projections claiming Australia is nearly on track to meet its 2030 target without using the Kyoto credits. 

The practice of using carryover credits from old climate accords has faced widespread criticism from the international community.

Australia fails to secure speaking slot at UN Climate Summit

Mr Morrison said he instead planned to outline his climate policy to an online meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum on Friday night. 

“Australia is well on track to hit our 2030 targets and our reliance on those issues [Kyoto credits] I'll have more to say on that in the not too distant future,” he said. 

UN climate summit for countries showing 'most ambition'

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern - who has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 - was also among those not included on the list of nearly 80 world leaders to address the summit. 

China - the world’s biggest carbon emitter - did receive a speaking slot along with Japan, Fiji, Kiribati and Cambodia.  

Selwin Hart, who is the climate advisor to UN secretary-general António Guterres - suggested Australia did not meet the criteria for a speaking position at the summit.

"We will not be commenting on the participation of individual leaders," he said.

"But the three co-hosts - the UN, UK and France - provided all member states with very clear guidance from the outset that speaking slots would go to countries and other actors who show the most ambition right now."

Australia’s current goal is for a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 emissions levels by 2030 under the Paris agreement. 

But Mr Morrison has resisted adopting a policy of net-zero emissions by 2050 instead saying he wants to achieve the goal in the second-half of the century. 

Mr Hart said that, rather than focusing on countries not speaking at the summit, those speaking should be celebrated.

"Many of them from the developing world who despite the challenges of the pandemic, [are] on the frontlines of the climate crisis including many countries in the Pacific - to make bold and ambitious commitments around net zero," he said. 

"We have a long way to go before Glasgow and we hope that this coalition around net zero by mid-century will grow."

Critics have accused Australia of being a laggard on climate change and not doing enough reduce the country's carbon emissions.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd earlier this week told SBS News that not speaking at the summit showed Australia had become a “stand-out global pariah” on climate change action. 

“Australia's record under his administration has been so woeful on climate change action,” he said. 

“Mr Morrison needs to be honest with the Australian people his policies  … have earned the negative reaction of countries around the world.”

Greens Leader Adam Bandt also said the lack of an invitation to the summit showed Australia wasn’t taking strong enough action on climate change. 

“The world has refused Scott Morrison entry to the climate ambition summit because his 2030 targets are too weak and even if he meets them it won’t be enough," he said.

Published 11 December 2020 at 12:20pm
By Tom Stayner