If the Nationals refuse to endorse a more ambitious climate commitment, Mr Morrison could avoid criticism at the summit and leave Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, who has confirmed he will attend the summit, to represent Australia.
Mr Morrison signed a joint communique released on Saturday by members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the US, India, Japan and Australia – that said the nations “intend to update or communicate ambitious NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) by COP26 .” NDCs are a country’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledge through the UN.
Australia’s former top climate diplomat, Howard Bamsey, said while net zero by 2050 is the bare minimum expected of the federal government, it could be enough to avoid a stinging rebuke on the international stage. He said securing a deal could pave the way for the Prime Minister to attend the event with other world leaders including Boris Johnson and Joe Biden.
“He’ll only go if he’s got essentially good news. He is not going to be pilloried by others,” Mr Bamsey said. “But if they can get the net zero commitment, then I think there’s plenty of cover for Australia.”
Mr Bamsey said net zero by 2050 is “seen as an especially low bar for us, and not getting there would have consequences”.
The UK, US and most other wealthy nations have committed to cut emissions by about 50 per cent or more by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest. Australia has not set a deadline to reach net zero, but is bound by its commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2030.
However, Australia could leverage a net-zero commitment for diplomatic gains in Glasgow, by detailing plans under the federal government’s Technology Roadmap, which invests public funds to drive industry uptake by developing cheaper low-emissions technology.
“There’s a lot of other opportunities for them, that more or less zero cost that they could, they could advance at COP26,” Mr Bamsey said.
“I’m sure they’ve got a few things ready to come yet and those things will look much better if there’s the net zero commitment behind them, much more credible. So I could see Australia doing reasonably well.”
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