(BBC): Australia’s prime minister has signalled he may not attend the UN’s landmark climate conference in November as his government faces continued criticism of its poor climate record.
In an interview, Scott Morrison said he had “not made any final decisions” on attending, suggesting it was a burden. “It’s another trip overseas… and I’ve spent a lot of time in quarantine,” he told the West Australian newspaper.
The COP26 summit will be the biggest global climate crisis talks in years.
It is hoped that the 12-day meeting between world leaders in Glasgow, Scotland will produce the next emissions standards to slow global warming and keep temperature rise below 1.5C.
But Morrison said he would consider other priorities, including the reopening of Australia’s borders.
“I have to focus on things here and with Covid. Australia will be opening up around that time. There will be a lot of issues to manage and I have to manage those competing demands,” he told the newspaper.
Australia – one of the world’s top exporters of coal and gas – is one of 200 countries expected to present their updated 2030 emissions cuts at the meet.
Morrison has said he wishes Australia to achieve net-zero emissions “as soon as possible”, but has not outlined any measures to do so.
His government has resisted committing to net-zero by 2050 – a goal already pledged by the US, the UK and many other developed nations.
Australia has consistently been criticised for its slow climate progress and heavy reliance on coal-fired power – which makes it the most carbon polluting nation in the world per capita.
Canberra is also staunchly protective of its fossil fuel industry – and has pledged to continue mining and trading dirty fuels as long as there is demand in Asia.
In July, a UN report ranked it last out of 170 member nations for its response to climate change.
And despite Australia’s claims to the contrary, the UN has previously said the nation is not on track to reach its modest Paris Agreement targets of a 26-28 per cent cut on 2005 levels by 2030.
‘Not a no-show’
Morrison, who became a leader in 2018, has consistently defended Australia’s climate policies as adequate.
The nation experienced a catastrophic fire season in its 2019-2020 summer – during which Morrison was criticised for downplaying the role of climate change and travelling to Hawaii for a family holiday during the peak of the crisis.
He has made several trips abroad this year, including to the G7 summit hosted by the UK in June, and in recent days to Washington for the Quad meeting with the leaders of the US, India and Japan.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that if Morrison did not attend there would still be senior-level representation at the meeting.
“It’s not a no-show at the conference. Australia will be strongly represented at the conference no matter by which senior Australian representative and our commitment is very clear,” she told the ABC.