PM defensive as allies boost climate goals

·3-min read

Scott Morrison continues to defend Australia's progress on climate action as the nation's biggest allies step up their commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The prime minister joined other world leaders into the early hours of Friday morning at a virtual climate summit organised by US President Joe Biden.

It marked Mr Biden's arrival back on the international scene after his predecessor withdrew the US from the Paris agreement.

Mr Biden kicked off the summit by announcing the US would aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half, from 2005 levels, by 2030.

Japan, Canada and Brazil also announced more ambitious targets, with pressure on countries to come to the table with plans for bolder action at a major UN climate meeting in November.

Mr Morrison did not mention deadly bushfires, floods, drought or Australia's Pacific island neighbours - who have long asked him to step up his commitments on climate - during his short speech.

He instead talked up Australia's emissions reduction achievements while crediting some of the biggest polluters for work towards achieving net zero.

"In Australia our journey to net zero is being led by world-class pioneering Australian companies like Fortescue - led by Dr Andrew Forrest - Visy, BHP, Rio Tinto, AGL and so many more of all sizes," Mr Morrison said.

Ahead of the summit he announced more than $1 billion for initiatives to lower emissions, including carbon capture and storage.

On Friday, Mr Morrison reiterated he was not interested in when targets are due, but how they are achieved.

"We are working to our plan, in Australia's national interest," he told reporters in Sydney.

"If we expect developing economies to change what they are doing, then we have to be able to deliver the commercial technology that enables them to make that change.

"That is not going to come because some politicians sit in a room and say some things."

Australia's emissions have recently dipped because of an increase in renewable energy as well as a reduction in transport because of coronavirus, and the effect of drought on agriculture.

The US, the UK and the European Union are aiming to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, a target the federal government has not provided a solid commitment to.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese says it's a disappointing situation.

"Australia is seen with Saudi Arabia and Brazil, and countries like that, as not pulling our weight," he told reporters in regional Victoria.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says the US put major economies on notice to step up by the UN summit.

"The fact that the US' target is almost twice as ambitious as Australia's, and the UK's three times as much, shows just how isolated we have become."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described Australia's 2030 target - of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels - as a "very significant commitment".

The government will unveil a long-term strategy ahead of the UN summit, which could include a bolder target for 2030.