Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today confirmed the UK-Australia trade deal will not include binding commitments to climate change targets from the Paris Agreement.
Morrison said it “wasn’t a climate agreement, it was a trade agreement”, which puts him at odds with the UK government who have claimed in the past 24 hours that the deal has many climate change safeguards.
It was revealed by Sky News yesterday that the UK bowed to Australian pressure to drop climate change commitments in the text of the trade agreement.
An email leaked from the Department for International Trade revealed international trade secretary Liz Truss and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said they would “drop both of the climate asks” to close a trade deal.
The revelation comes just months before the UK hosts the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow where Boris Johnson is hoping to see a renewed global commitment to lower global emissions.
Government officials have since said the text of the UK-Australia trade deal still refers to the Paris climate agreement and that there is a whole chapter on the environment.
Morrison, who once brandished a lump of coal in parliament as a way to support the mining industry, today appeared to contradict this line.
“It wasn’t a climate agreement, it was a trade agreement. And I do trade agreements, and in trade agreements, I deal with trade issues. In climate agreements, I deal with climate issues. We’re pursuing agreements on clean energy technology with a vast number of countries, and we’ll have agreements about that,” he said.
“The key agreement we’ve made is when we signed up to Paris and the commitments that we made to achieve. Those commitments are clear. And we’ll not only meet them, we’ll beat them just like we did Kyoto.”
The leaked email, from a senior Department for International Trade official, read: “The business secretary has agreed that, in order to get the Australia [free trade agreement] over the line DIT can drop both of the climate aks i.e. on precedence of multilateral environmental agreements over fta provisions and a reference to pairs agreement temperature goals.”
Australia’s heavy reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the highest per-capita emitters of carbon in the world.
Australia’s governing Liberal-National coalition also has a long history of climate skepticism and has been reluctant to legislate for more stringent climate goals since coming into power in 2013.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by his own party’s MPs, after a rebellion saw him unable to get climate change legislation through parliament.
Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese said Morrison “was holding Australia back” from the “opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower for the world”.
A UK government spokesperson said: “Our ambitious trade deal with Australia will include a substantive article on climate change which reaffirms both parties’ commitments to The Paris Agreement and achieving its goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue.
“The UK’s climate change and environment policies are some of the most ambitious in the world, reflecting our commitment as the first major economy to pass new laws for net zero emissions by 2050.”