Australian diplomats underscore need to commit to time-bound zero emissions targets

By Melissa Coade

Monday September 27, 2021

Richard Mathews, Australia’s former Consul-General for eastern Indonesia, said the group was concerned policy-makers were not responding fast enough
Richard Mathews, Australia’s former Consul-General for eastern Indonesia, said the group was concerned policy-makers were not responding fast enough. (The Australia-Indonesia Centre)

A group of former top diplomatic representatives to Australia has signed a letter to Scott Morrison calling for the federal government to take urgent action on climate change and adopt a 2050 target. 

Former Australian diplomats have voiced concern about the strategic and economic threat of climate change for the nation because of the federal government’s slowness in committing to a 2050 net zero emissions target. 

“Time is running out for us to catch up with the rest of the world. As former diplomats, we see what is happening around the globe, and it concerns us that Australia is not at the leading edge of international action on climate change,” the open letter read.

A total of 70 former ambassadors, high commissioners, consuls-general, consuls, humanitarian aid coordinators and a range of middle and senior level DFAT and AusAID officials put their name to the correspondence, which warned not to sell the nation’s future generations and prosperity down the river.

Richard Mathews, Australia’s former Consul-General for eastern Indonesia, said the group was concerned policy-makers were not responding fast enough to keep up with the pace of climate change, and that more ambitious national efforts before 2030 must be adopted ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow later this year (it is rumoured that the Australian pm may not attend the event). 

“We are concerned that the climate is changing rapidly and without urgent action to reduce global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the future of life on this planet looks bleak for our children and grandchildren,” Mathews said.

The group is also worried about how the lack of leadership Australia is showing on climate change issues has ‘undermined’ how reliable the nation is seen by strategic allies, risking ‘considerable economic costs’. Continuing to remain silent and risk being seen as a laggard on climate change could potentially undo decades of diplomatic work, they said. 

“[Australia’s] lack of commitment is particularly concerning to those regional partners for whom climate change already poses a clear existential threat. The United States and other key partners in Europe and around the globe are increasingly voicing concerns that Australia is not pulling its weight on climate action,” the letter read.

“Australia’s inertia on commitments undermines our credibility as a regional partner; it undermines our reliability in the minds of our strategic allies; and it will cost us dearly as trading partners seek to impose carbon tariffs on imports of our goods and services. 

“We fear this inertia will undermine many of the strong international relationships we have built up over decades.”

The Australian prime minister is currently travelling in the USA, where he met with president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Boris Johnson, as well as participating in a Quad leaders summit with members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue– Japan, India and the USA.

Following the Quad meeting on Saturday, Morrison announced a clean energy summit to be held in Australia next year.

The former Australian diplomats’ letter follows recent comments made by treasurer Josh Frydenberg in September that the national economy would suffer in the absence of a net zero target. 

“I am being very clear that Australia needs to be part of these international agreements, and we can’t allow a false assumption or a false conclusion to be drawn by international investors about what Australia is doing,” Frydenberg told a press pack ahead of his address to the Australian Industry Group forum on Friday. 

Earlier this year in June, comments made by Nationals MP David Littleproud intimated that the agricultural sector and others in Australia’s regions could also benefit from a net zero target. Industry groups like the Carbon Market Institute (CMI) welcomed the positive tone of the National’s deputy leader and said that good policy could deliver more opportunities for regional Australia with decarbonisation and carbon sequestration requirements.

“With the right policies, and a laser-like focus on integrity, our carbon farming industry can also become a major export industry of carbon reduction credits and expertise to a world increasingly demanding them,” CMI president John O’Connor said.  

In their open letter, the group of former Australian diplomats said that a commitment to targets at the highest levels of governments were paramount to show the global community how serious Australia took the issue.

“Actions, plans and policies are of course vitally important, but without a commitment to targets at the highest levels of government, no-one will believe that we are serious about pulling our weight on reducing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases,” the letter read.

“A clear commitment by Australia to targets would be welcomed by our neighbours and partners and would encourage greater investment in renewable energy and new green industrial processes.”

Scott Morrison recently told the UN general assembly in a pre-recorded message before his international trip that Australia was committed to achieving net zero emissions.

“We know the world is transitioning to a new energy economy. It’s no longer about if – or even when for that matter. It’s about how,” the pm said. 

“And the answer, as history has shown us time and time again, it’s technology – practical, scalable and commercially viable technologies.”


Australia could face trade and economic consequences over lack of climate action, former UN official warns

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