‘Loose with the truth’: PM slammed
Scott Morrison has brushed off suggestions Australia is not doing enough on climate change in a speech that has been labelled by a climate change executive as "colossal bulls**t".
During a speech to the United Nations in New York on Wednesday (local time), the Prime Minister said critics "willingly overlook - or, perhaps ignore our achievements".
"The facts simply don't fit the narrative that they wish to project about our contribution," Mr Morrison told the general assembly.
He said Australia was taking real action on climate change and getting results.
"Australia is responsible for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions. Australia is doing our bit on climate change and we reject any suggestion to the contrary."
Ahead of the speech he told reporters that Pacific leaders were often surprised to learn about the action Australia was taking.
"Oftentimes the criticisms that have been made about Australia are completely false," he said.
But Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said Mr Morrison was out of touch with what was happening.
"Scott Morrison's speech and his claim that Australia was doing enough on climate change was colossal bulls**t," she said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government should stop pretending "black is white" when it comes to Australia's carbon emissions.
"There's a pattern here developing, whereby Scott Morrison is loose with the truth," he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
Mr Albanese said the Prime Minister was downplaying the seriousness of climate change and dismissing young people's fears about the environment.
"The fact is Australia's emissions are rising and the government has no plan to deal with it."
So what is the truth, is Australia doing enough on climate change?
ARE WE MEETING OUR TARGETS?
It's a pretty simple question but figuring out whether Australia is on track to meet its global obligations is not straight forward.
Australia has signed up to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent, below 2005 levels, by 2030 as part of the Paris agreement.
It means Australia has 11 years to get its carbon emissions below 450 metric tons.
The Morrison Government says it's on track to achieve this but its own data shows emissions have gone up every year for the last five years.
The most recent Environment and Energy Department figures for March showed emissions went up by 0.6 per cent compared to the previous year.
In fact a 2018 government report predicted emissions in 2030 will be 563 metric tons, which is 7 per cent below 2005 levels. This is well short of the 26 to 28 per cent target.
However, Australia does have one "accounting trick" up its sleeve and this where many environment groups have called foul.
One thing Australia has got going for it, is that it's on track to exceed its previous Kyoto target of reducing emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.
Australia has done so well on this target that it believes "credits" from this should go towards its 2030 target.
If these credits were used, it would reduce Australia's effective emissions target to about 16 per cent, according to the Investor Group on Climate Change.
Australian National University Professor Mark Howden told news.com.au the "jury was still out" on whether Australia should be able to use Kyoto credits to meet its obligations.
"The grave concern is that Australia can use what's been called an 'accounting trick' to achieve reductions rather than achieve real reductions," he said.
If Australia did not rely on Kyoto credits then Prof Howden believes it will be "very difficult" for it to meet its Paris targets.
"Given the existing policy, it's very hard to see that we will meet our Paris agreement targets in the absence of using Kyoto credits," he said.
Emissions would have to be reduced "substantially" across the economy, not just in the electricity sector, but also agriculture, transport, waste, land use and other areas.
"We're not anyway near doing that at the moment," he said.
Prof Howden said new infrastructure would also have to be built to help renewables integrate into the existing electricity grid system.
"Economists say almost unanimously that the best approach to reduce emissions is to put a price on carbon, through an emissions trading system or a carbon tax," Prof Howden said.
"But politically this is a poisoned chalice in Australia."
The Climate Council labelled Australia's targets as "one of the weakest targets among developed countries".
It dismissed Mr Morrison's comments that Australia was responsible for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions, pointing out Australia was the 17th largest polluter in the world, worse than 175 other countries. Australia is also the third largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world.
Interestingly, emissions in Australia are expected to grow beyond 2020 because of increased gas exports, transport activity, a declining forest sink and growth in agricultural activity following the drought.
The one bright spot is that Australia has been successful in reducing emissions in the electricity sector thanks to renewables and lower electricity demand than expected.
WHAT ABOUT OUR 'PER CAPITA' EMISSIONS?
During his speech, the Prime Minister boasted that Australia's "emissions per person" and the emissions intensity of the economy were at their lowest levels in 29 years.
This is true but rapid population growth has helped improve these numbers.
Emissions per capita have reduced partly because there are more people in Australia, which means even if emissions are rising overall this is spread out among more people.
The Climate Council pointed out that Australia still had the highest per capita emissions in the developed world. Higher even than Saudi Arabia, a country not known for its action on climate change.
Prof Howden also noted that Australia's commitments were "absolute numbers" not per capita commitments.
After all, emissions need to be restricted at certain levels if the world was to succeed in keeping global warming under 2 degrees, this has to happen regardless of population growth.
WE DON'T NEED TO DO MORE
The Prime Minister has stood by Australia's 26 to 28 per cent emissions target, saying it was a "credible, fair, responsible and achievable contribution" to global climate change action.
So far he has rejected the need to do more.
As part of the Paris agreement, all countries were expected to update their emissions pledges at the Glasgow conference in 2020.
But Mr Morrison indicated Australia was unlikely to join them saying, "We have our commitments, and we're sticking to those commitments."
He also confirmed Australia won't contribute any more to the global Green Climate Fund. Instead, Australia is redirecting $500 million to help Pacific Island nations become more resilient.
However, scientists have warned the world needs to step up its climate action dramatically if it wants to keep global warming to less than 2C.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world has already warmed by about 1C and was on track for 3C warming by the end of the century, based on the current levels of global action.
The consequences could be dire for Australia's Great Barrier Reef. At 1.5C warming most of the world's coral reefs would be lost in the next 30 years, and at 2C almost all the reefs would be gone.
Actions taken in the next 11 years are critical in keeping warming to 1.5C and would require reaching "net zero" emissions by about 2050. To achieve this, emissions would need to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels - by 2030 - just 11 years away.
Nearly 70 countries - about two-fifths of those signed up to the Paris Agreement - have already indicated they will do more on climate change.
Prof Howden, who is the vice chair of the IPCC and the most senior Australian climate expert involved in its groundbreaking reports, said many of Australia's peer countries were announcing new initiatives and taking very strong policy stances.
"For example, New Zealand has a policy for net zero emissions by 2050 and I think compared with these peer countries we are looking very light-on in terms of these initiatives," he said.
He said climate policies could also make Australia more liveable and bring other benefits, adding that Australia should be "smart enough to do two things at once": to have a sensible transition from mining activities while at the same time developing a whole new industry of high-value, green, hi-tech jobs.
Certainly smaller governments like the Australian Capital Territory, are already acting. It released a blueprint this month for how it would reduce emissions by 50 to 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025, through policies like zero emission government schools and bus fleet, as well as food and garden waste collection.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has been labelled a "national embarrassment" for not attending a United Nations climate summit in New York this week, where 63 world leaders spoke about their climate actions.
Instead of stronger emissions targets, Mr Morrison is focused on practical environmental actions.
"It's about plastics, it's about oceans, it's about recycling," he said.