Australia Backs Big Emitters to Lead Way to Net-Zero Emissions

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed he will attend President Joe Biden’s climate summit this week, as pressure mounts on his coal-industry backing government to commit to a hard target for net-zero emissions.

“The key to meeting our climate-change ambitions is commercialization of low emissions technology,” Morrison said in a speech to business leaders on Monday night, ahead of Biden’s virtual summit of 40 national leaders.

Australia Backs Big Emitters to Lead Way to Net-Zero Emissions

International pressure is mounting on Australia, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporters and per-capita emitters. The nation is generally considered a climate laggard, even as some of its biggest markets -- China, Japan and South Korea -- express increased ambition to combat climate change.

Morrison again ruled out taxes for polluters, and backed the country’s top emitters -- which include AGL Energy Ltd. and mining giants Rio Tinto Group and BHP Group Ltd., which he name-checked in the speech -- to come up with the solutions to help Australia hit net zero.

Morrison reiterated he wants Australia to achieve net-zero emissions “as quickly as possible and preferably by 2050,” which he said would be done “by the pioneering entrepreneurial-ism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists.”

Biden Wants U.S. to Lead on Climate, But the World Needs Proof

While the U.S. and Australia remain close geopolitical allies and are presenting a united front in attempts to counter what they see as China’s expansionism, it remains to be seen if Morrison’s climate strategy will please the Biden administration, especially if he doesn’t commit to hard targets.

The president is expected to use the summit, starting Thursday, to unveil the U.S. goal for reducing greenhouse gases, a key part of the Paris climate accord that he had the U.S. rejoin on his first day in office. He wants other leaders to use the meeting “to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition,” according to a White House release.

Amid increasing pressure from Washington for hard commitments to reach net zero, Canada plans to present more aggressive targets this month, while Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga -- who’ll meet Biden Friday at the White House -- is currently discussing plans for stronger 2030 commitments.

Morrison, who once brandished a lump of coal in parliament in support of the fuel, is reticent of being seen to make moves to kill off Australia’s fossil fuel industry.

Coal and gas exports together reap a quarter of Australia’s export income, totaling about A$120 billion ($93 billion) a year. According to a University of New South Wales report published in July, that revenue comes at a high price -- Australia is now the world’s largest exporter of coal and gas, making it one of the biggest contributors to climate change through exported emissions.

But that pollution isn’t covered by the Paris Agreement, under which Australia committed to a modest target to cut its own greenhouse gases by 26% to 28% by 2030 from a 2005 base.

“We take our emission reductions targets very seriously,” Morrison said in the speech. “They aren’t proclamations, they are commitments. And we don’t make commitments lightly in this country.”

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