Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced heavy criticism for what some have described as a "weird" and "embarrassing" speech to world leaders overnight.
Mr Morrison joined his global counterparts for a summit on climate change hosted by the United States as president Joe Biden pushes world leaders to embrace more ambitious action on reducing emissions.
Sandwiched between Bhutan and Antigua and Barbuda, the prime minister used his speech to praise the work of fossil fuel companies and touted investment in new technologies as the way Australia intends to move towards a greener future.
Excluding coal and gas exports, Australia has reduced emissions by 36 per cent on 2005 levels, Mr Morrison said.
"Australia is on the pathway to net zero. Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries," he told the summit.
"For Australia, it is not a question of if, or even by when for net zero, but importantly how."
Australia's refusal to commit to a "net zero" emissions target makes us an outlier among developed economies, with experts labelling the Australian government's commitment as "one of the worst".
“Morrison had an opportunity to take the world stage and represent all of Australia and instead he gave a stump speech to his followers," said Richie Merzian, Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Australian Institute.
"It was unstatesmanlike, it was petty, it was combative, and it was just odd," he told Yahoo News Australia.
“He took a competitive tone, saying we’ve done better than other nations ... He made up statistics that are just weird and deceptive.
"I don't think Scott Morrison knows how to be diplomatic, it was almost Trumpian ... It was embarrassing," he said.
Tech billionaire blasts Morrison's 'poor' speech
Among the critics was billionaire tech founder and clean energy advocate Mike Cannon-Brookes whose infamous bet with Elon Musk ended with the world's largest lithium-ion battery being built in South Australia.
He described Mr Morrison's speech as "just poor".
"New accounting trick (excluding emissions from energy exports, when we’re the largest exporter of gas in the world) was particularly galling," he tweeted.
If Australia takes the same position to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November, "we’ll reach new levels of international shame," he lamented.
More than 120 other governments have made pledges for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including China, the European Union and the United States while the Morrison government has balked at any domestic legislation to follow suit.
The Morrison government’s own projections show Australia is not on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels, a target under the Paris Agreement which scientists have roundly said is insufficient.
The conservative UK government has vowed to cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 while the US has pledged to cut emissions in half by 2030.
Japan, Canada and Brazil also announced more ambitious targets.
PM pushing for creation of 'Hydrogen Valleys'
Flanked by the former deputy CEO of the Minerals Council who now works as the PM's chief of staff, Mr Morrison talked up technology investments after announcing on Wednesday $263 million for carbon capture and storage, and another $275.5 million to set up regional hydrogen hubs.
"Mr President, in the United States you have the Silicon Valley. Here in Australia we are creating our own ‘Hydrogen Valleys’," he said during the summit.
"We are investing around $20 billion to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity.
"In Australia our ambition is to produce the cheapest clean hydrogen in the world, at $A2 per kilogram," he said.
Mr Merzian described the government's stated plan as "a way to give a facelift to fossil fuels", pointing out the government has already spent $1.3 billion on carbon capture and storage research, with little success to show for it.
"The whole thing is disingenuous," Mr Merzian said. "You can create hydrogen two ways – a really dirty and high polluting way and a really clean green way. The Morrison government has no intention of sticking to the clean way."
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