As pressure mounts on the Australian government to take a more ambitious stance on global warming, a new threat has emerged – and it's got nothing to do with drought, water scarcity or extreme weather events.
There is growing likelihood the likes of the UK, the US and the European Union will place carbon tariffs on energy-intensive imports. Sanctions that could have a devastating impact on Australia's raw material trade.
British Prime Minster Boris Johnson is reportedly pushing for the exclusive G7 leader's summit in June to establish climate tariffs, an idea the Australian government has been quick to oppose.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt dismissed the likelihood of Britain linking exports to countries' climate policies on Thursday.
"I'm thinking about whether I can lose weight and get better looking, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen," he said.
Mr Johnson has directed British government departments to come up with options for carbon border levies, while the EU has also been pushing for carbon tariffs to be applied on imported goods produced in countries with weaker climate laws. It has already committed to introducing a carbon border tax by 2023.
New US president Joe Biden has also spoken of endorsing a "carbon adjustment fee" at the American border to penalise carbon intensive imports.
Pressure to tackle climate change growing around the world
It comes amid growing global pressure for nations to do more to tackle climate change, putting Australia on the outer.
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 target, and a reticence to correct course could see Australia punished if tariffs are adopted by major economies as an incentive for greater climate action.
Australian criticism dubbed 'absurd'
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan has previously described carbon tariffs as "a new form of protectionism" but it's a label dubbed "absurd" by proponents of the idea.
Speaking to ABC Radio on Friday, Sir David King, a former scientific advisor to the UK, said the fact that some countries with resource intensive economies like Australia have a more difficult time being ambitious on climate was no longer excusable.
"In the past that has been recognised internationally," he said. "I would say that is no longer true ... There is no allowance for fossil fuel based economies."
He argued Australia's economy is strong enough to "take advantage of all of the economic benefits of switching across to renewable energy systems."
Aussie climate commitment 'one of the worst'
Sir David King is the keynote speaker at the National Climate Emergency Summit 2021 being held in Melbourne and didn't hold back in his assessment of Australia's position on the issue.
Compared to other nations, Australia's commitment to emissions reduction "is one of the worst I can think of," he said.
"It is, I think, really sad that Australia, this very advanced country which is also suffering in many, many ways from climate change already... it is very strange to me that Australia isn't amongst the leading countries for action."
He also refuted the notion that carbon tariffs were a form of protectionism, labelling it "absurd".
"I don't think any countries are going to be targeted as such," he said but warned that "willing nations" will put a high price on carbon.
Joe Biden is expected to hold a summit with world leaders on the issue of climate change on April 22 while the United Nations will meet for a climate change conference in November.
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