Scott Morrison won’t attend UN climate summit despite being in the US | Australia news
Scott Morrison will not attend the UN climate action summit despite him being in America to visit the Trump administration at the time – deploying the foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the Australian ambassador for the environment, Patrick Suckling, instead.
Guardian Australia understands speaking slots at the event in New York on 23 September were reserved for countries announcing new emissions reduction targets or financial commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund – and Morrison has been signalling Australia won’t be going further, at least at this point, than commitments previously announced.
A draft program for the summit, and a list of member states intending to present at the event, seen by Guardian Australia, did not include any reference to Australian participation. Morrison was asked by the Greens in question time on Wednesday whether he would attend the UN summit, and he said Australia would be represented at the event.
Asked by Guardian Australia to confirm whether the prime minister would be the Australian representative, and whether the government would offer any new commitments, a spokesman for Morrison said: “Australia has already outlined our policies to tackle climate change including cutting our emissions by 26-28% and investing directly into climate resilience projects through our regional partners”.
The spokesman confirmed Payne would attend the summit, not Morrison. “The foreign minister, accompanied by the ambassador for the environment, will be highlighting [the Coalition’s previously announced policies] when she represents Australia at the UN Climate Action Summit.”
Morrison will go to New York later in the week as part of his US visit to address the UN General Assembly.
Guardian Australia reported in July that the UN secretary general, António Guterres, as a prelude to the special climate summit on 23 September, had written to all heads of state, including Australia, asking countries to outline plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Morrison at the time dead batted what Australia might do at the UN event, but signalled Australia was only engaging on the process to 2030, not on the next round of commitments to 2050 flagged by the secretary general.
Despite well-publicised differences at the recent Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) between regional leaders and Morrison about coal, Australia at the forum signed up to a statement that commits Australia to pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C, and to produce a 2050 strategy by 2020.
Earlier this year, Australian government officials also restated a commitment to “review and refine” domestic policies aligned with the five-yearly review process under the Paris agreement. The Morrison government was challenged by the European Union and by China in June about whether Australia could meet its Paris commitments given the trend of rising emissions evident since the repeal of the carbon price, including increased pollution from vehicles.
Australia needs to submit a new pollution reduction goal for post-2030 as part of the “review, refine and ratchet” mechanism under the Paris agreement. In response to questions ahead of a climate meeting in Bonn in June, Australian officials said of refine and review: “This approach will provide for integrated consideration of domestic policy and international targets, and provide guidance for industry about future policy review processes.”
While Australia has made a commitment at PIF to develop a 2050 strategy next year, Morrison has made it clear the Coalition won’t be investing more in the UN climate fund, and will instead pursue investments in climate resilience directly with Australia’s regional partners.
Morrison’s spokesman said Australia was pursuing direct investments because countries in the region had faced “frustrations with the UN’s Green Climate Fund”. Morrison at PIF offered $500m over five years from 2020 from existing aid funds for climate projects.
Britain has been confirmed as the host of the COP26 meeting in December 2020. That meeting at the end of next year under UN auspices is regarded as the most important on the climate since the Paris process, because parties to the Paris agreement will review their pledges.
The British government has privately appealed to senior Coalition ministers – including the energy minister, Angus Taylor, and Payne – to develop a more “ambitious” climate policy, amid growing concern that Australia is not doing enough to cut emissions.
While the criticism of the government’s current policy offering on climate change is persistent from a range of stakeholders, Morrison declared in parliament on Wednesday Australia had no case to answer. “We are doing our heavy lifting. We are setting our targets. We are meeting our targets. We have the programs in place.”