climate change

Australia Continues to Get Dunked On as US and China Announce Climate Pact

"On climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”
Australian prime minister scott morrison and polution
Left: Mark Evans, Right: Bloomberg

While Australia and Prime Minister Scott Morrison continue to flail on climate policy, observers of the United Nations talks in Glasgow were stunned early Thursday morning as the US and China – the world’s two largest emitters – unveiled a new pact to tackle climate change.

Though the pact was absent of specific deadlines, the declaration was symbolic in its union of two nations with often fractious relations. Both nations have agreed to share clean energy technology, and China has committed to tackling methane emissions and deforestation. A phase-out of coal consumption is also paramount to the new agreement.


With a line that took over headlines on Wednesday, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua – appearing at the conference in place of Chinese president Xi Jinping – termed the current situation of global warming and emissions an “existential” challenge.

The Age reports that secret negotiations were carried out between the two high-polluting nations over the last few months – including around 30 virtual meetings and negotiation sessions. Xie and his US opposite, John Kerry, unveiled plans to enhance climate action in the 2020’s using the guidelines set out by the 2015 Paris climate deals.

“The United States and China have no shortage of differences,” Kerry said. “But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”

Meanwhile, as the world's largest nations stand shoulder-to-shoulder to tackle climate change, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to stand by his net zero plan for 2050. 


With the federal election looming in the next six months, Morrison soft-launched his campaign trail this month, appearing in press conferences aside NSW premier Dominic Perrottet, visiting regional Australia, shaking hands with construction workers and snapping photos in the driver’s seat of a lorry. At one point, the prime minister took a selfie while getting a haircut at a local barber.

Allies have pointed to his latest announcement of a new electric vehicle strategy as progress in the fight against climate change. With $178 million in funding, the strategy is set to see a partnering with private sectors to build 50,000 charging stations around Australia, in a hope to create 2,600 news jobs and inch the nation closer to Morrison’s net zero pledge of 2050. What the policy fails to consider is a plan to incentivise public adoption or an expected timeline.

On Thursday, the prime minister appeared on breakfast TV and stumbled his way through multiple misrepresentations of the Labor Party’s previous electric vehicle strategy, following claims that he had previously talked down the potential of an electric vehicle future.  


Morrison is surely counting on the Australian public to forget his comments to Melbourne reporters in 2019, when he described the adoption of electric cars as something that “won’t tow your trailer… tow your boat…[or] get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.” 

Of course, while there are only a handful of electric cars available in Australia at the moment, experts say that their towing power is equivalent to a petrol-fueled car. The Tesla X, the Renault Kangoo Z.E, and the Jaguar, Mercedes and Audi models, are at least five that are being promoted with towing capacity at present.

Increasingly, the recent Glasgow Climate Summit has appeared to be something of a watershed moment for Australia’s understanding of itself in the race to combat climate change. With further plans to expand the country’s fossil fuel sector, the government is set to build 100 new gas and coal projects, which would result in 1.7 billion tonnes of CO3 emissions every year.

“[Our plan is] not a plan at any cost,” said Morrison in a recent press conference. “It will not shut down our coal or gas production or exports… It is not a revolution, but a careful evolution to take advantage of changes in our markets.” 

While Morrison’s approach appears to be a careful one as he approaches the next election, the rest of the world is continuing to outshine Australia in environmental policy. The prime minister’s insistence on evolution over revolution could well help him win an election – by way of not disrupting the broader, and older, national psyche – but refusing to aggressively address one of the planet’s greatest global crises appears tougher and tougher as more worldwide superpowers adjust their focus. 

America and China are the latest. It’s not clear when, or if, Australia will join that party.

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