The Guardian • Issue #1979

Coalition presses the UK to remove climate targets from trade deal

Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Coalition government pressed the UK to remove climate targets from the post-Brexit Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement announced in principle on 17th June.

This comes after the once-again leader of the Nationals Barnaby Joyce doubled-down last week on the minor Coalition party’s opposition to climate change policy. Joyce refused to say whether he accepts key findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This has left critics speculating that the move was a bid by Morrison to appease Joyce and other Nationals MPs. 

Confirming that the government opposed the inclusion of Paris Agreement temperature goals, Morrison argued that “it wasn’t a climate agreement, it was a trade agreement.”

“In trade agreements I deal with trade issues. In climate agreements I deal with climate issues,” he explained, although an example of Morrison dealing with climate issues is yet to be seen.

It is understood that while the UK government pushed for stronger climate commitments, this was a point of conflict with Australia, who demanded the exclusion of any concrete climate targets.

In comparison, the 2020 EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement recognised the “importance of taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” as well as containing an explicit commitment to the temperature goals set by the Paris Agreement.

Although Australia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which calls for action to keep temperatures “well below” two degrees of pre-industrial levels and preferably to 1.5 degrees, it has no real legislative commitment to net zero emissions. 

Similarly, Morrison refused to sign the 2021 G7 final communiqué, which was signed by the six other nations. He refused to sign because the G7’s statement commits to net-zero emissions by 2050, the ending of direct government support for new coal-fired power facilities by the end of 2021, and all other “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

Despite claims from Trade Minister Dan Tehan that Australia should get to net-zero emissions “as soon as possible, preferably by 2050,” these moves demonstrate a refusal to be legislatively bound to the target.

There is no plan, or even desire to achieve net-emissions at any point, and certainly not by 2050. In fact, the government’s latest emissions projections, released last December, indicate that Australia is not set to reach net-zero emissions until the year 2167.

Climate change is not a national emergency, but an international one. That Boris Johnson, set to host the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November, is willing to remove climate commitments to secure a free trade agreement with Australia demonstrates that even among those capitalist countries who have committed themselves to action by legislature, economics and politics always comes before the environment.

However, Australia remains one of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitters, doubling down on its intent to both mine and burn coal beyond 2030, whilst refusing to commit itself to any form of binding climate target.

The Coalition government is increasingly isolating Australia from international cooperation, not only among its Pacific neighbours most threatened by the adverse effects of climate change, but increasingly amongst its allies, including the US under Joe Biden.

While the climate crisis will not be resolved under capitalism, in face of the UN Climate Summit this November, the Morrison government must reunite with the international community and commit itself to serious and ambitious climate targets.

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