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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to make net-zero emissions by 2050 an official government policy, instead telling leaders during a two-day Leaders Summit on Climate that the nation would “get there as soon as we possibly can.”

Speaking virtually to dozens of policymakers from the world’s top polluting nations in an event spearheaded by US President Joe Biden, Morrison said that “for Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net-zero, but importantly how.”

"That is why we are investing in priority new technology solutions, through our Technology Investment Roadmap initiative,” he 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, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create, especially in our regions.”

Morrison added: “Future generations … will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver.”

Australia’s climate policy remains at a cut of emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The unchanged target is about half as ambitious as the new US environmental goal: cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, from 2005 levels, by the end of the decade — announced by Biden during the Summit Thursday. During the event, Canada likewise upped its target to a 40% to 50% cut from 2005 emissions by 2030. 

Brazil similarly pledged to improve the nation’s goal of carbon neutrality by a decade, to 2050. Earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to cutting emissions by 78% on 1990 levels by 2035.

The US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Korea have all committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. 

One day before the summit, Morrison pledged a further $540 million to clean energy projects, with the funding to be split between new infrastructure to capture and safely dispose of carbon emissions and building regional hydrogen production hubs.

"These partnerships mean Australia will keep leading the way in low emissions technology,” Morrison said. “The world is changing, and we want to stay ahead of the curve by working with international partners to protect the jobs we have in energy-reliant businesses and create new jobs in the low emissions technology sector.”

Scientists, politicians and climate lobby organisations have criticised Morrison for falling to be more ambitious.

Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at public policy think tank the Australia Institute, said committing to a more substantial target would allow for a less disruptive transition to net-zero and enable Australia to more effectively capitalise on new economic and employment opportunities.

"It is disappointing that the best this Australian government can do is increase taxpayer funding for failed technologies like carbon capture and storage, which will mainly benefit the fossil fuel industry,” Merzian said in a statement. “Yet again, Australia is set to disappoint on the world stage.”

Former Australian Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnball echoed Merzian’s comments.

"The reality is Australia’s current target, set in 2015, to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030 is now woefully inadequate — and was always intended to be updated this year,” Rudd and Turnball wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian. “Morrison’s refusal to adopt both a firm timeline to reach net-zero emissions and to increase its own interim 2030 target leaves us effectively isolated in the western world.”


Defend the Planet

Australia Refuses to Update Emissions Policy During Biden-Led Climate Summit

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