Scott Morrison – Europe trade talks: Australia urged to be ‘more ambitious’ on climate | Australia news
Europe will urge Australia to increase its 2030 emission reduction pledge in the lead-up to this year’s Glasgow climate conference, with the EU ambassador in Canberra saying all countries should embrace “more ambitious and emboldened” policies.
In an interview with Guardian Australia, Dr Michael Pulch said countries should take stock of whether they were “in a better position than, say, five years ago to have a more ambitious climate objective”.
The ambassador also said Europe wished to see all of its partners head in the direction of net zero emissions by 2050, and noted that the EU and the US were considering carbon-related charges on imports in an attempt to ensure a “level playing field” on global climate action.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, is wrestling with internal dissent over the possibility of Australia embracing a mid-century carbon-neutral promise. The Nationals are mounting a campaign against an economy-wide commitment that is yet to be announced, let alone backed by a mechanism to get there.
Asked if Europe was looking for Australia to upgrade its climate policies to help smooth the way for a trade deal, Pulch said: “I would say what we have in mind is relatively straightforward. We are shouldering more and we would hope that our partner countries would do the same – that they become a bit more ambitious and emboldened when it comes to climate change objectives.”
Pulch, the EU ambassador to Australia since 2017, added that his comments applied “across the board” rather than being targeted at any single country.
He said there was growing global momentum to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, spurred on by the new Biden administration in the US, and “we would all wish to see that all our partner countries would go in that direction”.
But Pulch signalled that it was also important for countries to lift their medium-term targets, saying parters should take stock of progress in technology and increased use of renewables and ask whether they were “now in a better position than, say, five years ago to have a more ambitious climate objective”.
Europe adopted in December an upgraded target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, when compared with 1990 levels.
“And we are encouraging generally all our partners to … go through this [process] and see whether they can’t be a bit more ambitious themselves in terms of where they set their own objectives,” Pulch said in reference to 2030 targets.
Just before Christmas, the Morrison government formally resubmitted to the UN its 2030 pledge of reducing emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels, while arguing this target was “a floor on Australia’s ambition” rather than a cap.
The EU and Australia are negotiating a free trade agreement, and both sides are hoping to wrap up the talks by the end of this year. The EU draft text includes a sustainable development chapter that emphasises the importance of effectively implementing the Paris agreement.
While Pulch played down the idea climate was a sticking point in the trade negotiations with Australia, he indicated it could be an issue when the European parliament met to ratify the eventual agreement.
He said climate change was “probably the top priority for this European Commission and it is also a top priority today in European national parliaments and the European parliament”.
“Whatever we do will have to have a net positive impact on climate change,” he said.
“It is not part of the [trade agreement] negotiations as such, but it will be part of how member states and the European parliament will debate the outcome of the negotiations.”
On Friday the environmental committee of the European parliament voted strongly in favour of a carbon border adjustment mechanism – an idea that aims to place a carbon price on imports from less climate-ambitious countries.
Supporters of such a mechanism say it is designed to prevent “carbon leakage”, or the moving of EU production to countries that have less stringent emission rules.
Pulch said the EU was in the process of considering the potential design of a carbon border adjustment mechanism while complying with World Trade Organization rules.
“Certainly I think we will have more discussions around this,” he said. “Until relatively recently, this was an idea that was on the table but hadn’t been picked up. I think we’ll see a lot of drive on this also coming from Washington. So that puts it differently on the world map, if you wish.”
Dan Tehan, the Australian trade minister, met with Pulch last week. Tehan told reporters last month he would be “working actively to ensure that we don’t see carbon tariffs used as a new form of protectionism”.
The EU trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, has said there are several potential designs, including “new tax on imports that is set at the level of the carbon price of the EU” under its existing emissions trading system.
In a confirmation hearing in October, Dombrovskis said it would have to “include rules that prevent discrimination between foreign and domestic products” to comply with WTO rules.
The increased global pressure for climate action came as Tehan on Tuesday brushed off the Nationals’ calls for sectors such as agriculture to be exempted from an Australian net zero target.
“Well, it’s not something we have to consider because the prime minister has been crystal clear that it’s going to be technology that drives our roadmap, not taxes,” Tehan told reporters.
“We’re not contemplating any sort of mechanism which would require these sectors to be excluded.”
Standing alongside Tehan at a press conference in the Whitsundays, the Nationals MP George Christensen played down Morrison’s net zero comments as being merely “aspirational if technology allows”.
“But I’m sure what the prime minister doesn’t want is job losses,” Christensen said.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said the government was “falling behind the rest of the world”, given major trading partners had adopted net zero by 2050.
Albanese said it was “quite preposterous that this government’s having a debate about what should be excluded from a target that they haven’t adopted”.