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Scott Morrison is resisting international pressure to lock in more ambitious climate commitments, declaring Australia opposes setting targets for certain parts of the economy or “false deadlines for phasing out specific energy sources”.
Before he sets off for the G7 summit in the UK later this week, the prime minister will use a foreign policy speech to say that “ambition alone won’t solve the problem of actually reducing emissions”.
Morrison is also expected to characterise carbon border tariffs – an idea that is gathering momentum in international discussions as a way to avoid heavy-emitting industries shifting to countries with less ambitious climate commitments – as a “combative” protectionist measure.
In an address to a thinktank in Perth on Wednesday, Morrison is expected to address tensions with China, saying Australia is “far from isolated” despite Beijing rolling out a series of trade actions against Australian export sectors over the past year.
According to speech remarks distributed to media in advance, Morrison will say Australia has made clear it is “not a nation that can be easily marginalised and driven to unacceptable compromises”.
He warns that the risks of miscalculation and conflict in the Indo-Pacific region “are growing” amid increasing competition between China and the US, and insists that liberal democracies should “reinforce, renovate and buttress a world order that favours freedom”.
But amid increasing international focus on the climate crisis, Morrison appears to be digging in against deeper emission cuts and sector-specific targets as part of the pathway to net-zero emissions.
The UK, which is hosting the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, has made clear that climate is its top foreign policy priority this year, and the Biden administration also recently called on Australia to cut emissions faster than planned. But Morrison says it should be up to sovereign nations to chart their own course.
“It’s important that nation states be accountable for charting their own path to net zero based on their unique economic structures and energy sources,” Morrison is expected to say in the speech to the Perth USAsia Centre.
“Australia does not support setting sectoral targets or timeframes for decarbonising particular parts of our economy or setting false deadlines for phasing out specific energy sources.”
The G7 ministers responsible for climate and environment released a statement in May describing coal power generation as “the single biggest cause of global temperature increases” and committing the big developed economies to “further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity and to an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s”.
The US president, Joe Biden, has set a target of a 50% to 52% cut in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and has also set a sector-specific goal of reaching 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
But the Australian government remains committed to its Abbott-era target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
In the prepared speech, Morrison says Australia will continue to be a strong voice for a technology-focused approach and for countries to work together to drive down the cost of low-emissions technologies, rather than acting “combatively through protectionist measures”.
Such an approach, according to Morrison, “will ensure that emissions abatement doesn’t come at the cost of growth and jobs”.
He says his government will release a long-term emissions reduction strategy before the Cop26 climate summit is held in Glasgow in November, but argues Australia has already “reduced emissions by 20% since 2005 – more than Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the US”.
Ahead of a climate summit organised by Biden in April, Morrison claimed Australia had achieved “a reduction in our domestic emissions of some 36%” based on “when you exclude exports” – but this presentation of the data stunned analysts.
Morrison, who has so far resisted making a concrete commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 amid internal resistance within the Coalition, is expected to acknowledge on Wednesday that “a new global energy economy is rising with profound implications for Australia as the world deals with climate change”.
He will say governments, international agencies and financial markets are crafting a net-zero energy economy and Australia needs to be part of those conversations about how to achieve it without risking manufacturing and heavy industry jobs.
“Our goal is to get [to net zero] as soon as possible, preferably by 2050, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support, especially in our regions,” he is to say.
In other remarks, Morrison will vow to work with other leaders at the G7 on reform of the World Trade Organisation, which he described as “one of the most powerful tools the international community has to counter economic coercion”.
He is also expected to call for the restoration of the WTO’s binding dispute settlement system, which stalled amid resistance from the Trump administration.
Morrison is due to fly to Singapore for talks with the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, on Thursday, on his way to Cornwall for the G7 summit. Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa are not G7 members but have been invited to attend.
On the sidelines of the G7, Morrison is set to have a series of meetings with other leaders, including his first face-to-face talks with Biden.
Morrison will meet with Boris Johnson early next week and the two sides are hoping to finalise an in-principle agreement on a free trade deal, before Morrison heads to France for talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, focused on the Indo-Pacific and the contentious submarine deal.