Australia will commit to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but will not improve its goal for 2030 at a crucial United Nations climate summit that begins on Sunday in Scotland, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.
“Australians want action on climate change. They’re taking action on climate change but they also want to protect their jobs and their livelihoods. They also want to keep the costs of living down,” Morrison said during a news conference on Tuesday.
“And I also want to protect the Australian way of life, especially in rural and regional areas. The Australian way of life is unique.”
Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party-led government has been reluctant to take significant steps on climate despite mounting evidence of the Earth’s heating and catastrophic fires that swept through southeastern Australia in late 2019 and early 2020. The country’s climate forecasters have already warned the country is facing hotter and drier summers.
Earlier on Tuesday, Morrison published an opinion piece in the Australian News Corp newspapers explaining his decision, which will commit to the 2050 net-zero goal, but will not improve on an election pledge to reduce emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“I said we would meet and beat this target and we will,” Morrison wrote.
The policy shift comes just before Morrison is due to attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. He is expected to leave on Thursday to attend the G20 Summit in Rome before he heads to Scotland.
Morrison reportedly made the decision after agreeing on a deal with his coalition government’s junior partner.
Morrison has been under mounting global pressure to take further action to cut carbon emissions in Australia. The country is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas, as well as one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis.
The junior National Party, which has a strong power base in regional parts of the country that are more reliant on agriculture and industries such as mining, has long been a stumbling block to revised climate policies.
However, the party said on Sunday it would support the 2050 target if Morrison’s Cabinet endorsed agreements made in secret negotiations.
The Australian Financial Review reported the deal included an agreement for Morrison to increase spending on regional infrastructure and offer tax benefits for income derived from carbon farming.
While the zero emissions target might ease some international pressure, it is less clear how it will resonate in regional and rural Australia.
Morrison must call an election by May 2022. A widely watched poll on Monday showed his Liberal party is on course to lose to the centre-left Labor party, which adopted the 2050 net-zero target in the last election in 2019.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will host COP26, congratulated Australia on its net-zero ambition.
“That was very difficult for Australia because Australia’s very heavily dependent on coal, on lots of carbon-producing industries, and they’ve done a heroic thing,” Johnson said, referring to the 2050 commitment.
COP26 will assess progress since 2015 when nations agreed to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Paris Accord.
The Glasgow meeting is widely seen as the last chance to hold global warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels.