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Australia faces ‘constellation’ of diplomatic pressures over climate

To this end he not only rejoined the Paris agreement on the day of his inauguration, but he announced he would host a climate summit of world leaders on April 22.

Biden is expected to announce more ambitious 2030 targets for America before that date. In climate circles the target he sets is expected to be at least a 40 per cent reduction of US emissions by 2030.

Any significant increase in US ambition may leave Australia further isolated because in the past Australia has quietly pegged its own ambitions to America’s.

In December, Australia disappointed climate negotiators around the world by sticking with the 26 to 28 per cent 2030 target it signed up for in Paris in 2015.

It is no coincidence that the Australian targets echoed American targets of the same amount, says Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at Australian National University. He noted, though, that America’s 26 to 28 per cent target was to be met by 2025, and was therefore more ambitious.

The potential implications of Australia’s diplomatic isolation on climate are becoming more explicit as the world gears up for the November UN climate summit in Glasgow.

In December, when Australia made it clear it was not ramping up its 2030 targets, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not invited to speak at a global climate ambitions summit, one of the precursor events to the Glasgow summit.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering advocating for tariffs on countries with weak climate laws.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering advocating for tariffs on countries with weak climate laws.Credit:AP

The Herald and The Age reported this week that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was considering advocating for tariffs on countries with weak climate laws at this year’s G7 meeting in June, which Australia has been invited to attend. Whether or not he chooses to pursue tariffs, one diplomatic source notes he is in an unusually powerful position to lobby for climate action this year as host to both the G7 and the climate summit and with the full support of his American ally.

Johnson has made it clear that for him, climate is now a legacy issue.

With the UK and US determined to maintain focus on climate, Australia can expect it to be raised at other international forums too, such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, at the UN General Assembly and at the G20 meeting immediately preceding the UN climate summit.

Australia’s peers, said the diplomatic source, have determined that this year climate change discussions will not be quarantined to climate talks but will be central to all the major international forums.

“Australia faces an unusual constellation of diplomatic pressure,” he said.

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As far as Jotzo is concerned, the 2030 targets are important not because of potential diplomatic headwinds for Australia, but because without adequate near-term targets for emissions reduction, long-term targets are meaningless.

The Paris agreement is designed to work with a ratchet effect, with countries setting and then improving upon five-yearly targets as policies and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions evolve.

No country, no economy, could possibly make the reductions needed by mid-century without immediately putting policies in place to achieve meaningful annual reductions.

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