Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally confirmed he will attend crucial climate talks in a little over two weeks at the UN’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, while Chinese President Xi Jinping will reportedly now snub the event.
Morrison had initially indicated that he could skip the global climate summit, leading to criticism both in Australia and internationally, with the PM appearing unwilling to spend 14 days in quarantine upon his return for a fourth time this year as part of Australia’s strict Covid-19 measures.
However, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet announced Friday that returning Australians that were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 would no longer have to complete two weeks of quarantine when returning to the state from overseas, from 1 November.
This would mean that Morrison would be able to return to the secondary official residence of the Prime Minister of Australia, Kirribilli House, which is located in the NSW capital of Sydney, and avoid another two weeks in quarantine.
Morrison told media at a press conference on Friday that he had confirmed his attendance for the event the night before, while adding he anticipated to unveil his government’s updated climate policy prior to his departure.
“It’s an important event. The government will be finalising its position for me to take to that summit prior to my departure over the next fortnight,” he said.
Australia currently lacks a net zero emissions target and it is understood that the Australian Prime Minister is facing resistance to such a goal from members of the National Party — which forms part of the coalition government with Morrison’s Liberal Party.
It's not just about hitting net zero
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the government's yet to be announced climate policy
Several Nationals members have been vocal in their opposition to a net zero target, with Morrison indicating negotiations with the National Party over the climate policy were still ongoing.
“We are working through those issues with our Cabinet and with our colleagues, and I look forward to those discussions concluding over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
“And I simply say to everyone that net zero was an outcome that I outlined at the beginning of this year, consistent with our Paris commitments. The challenge is not about the if and the when, the challenge is about the how. And I’m very focused on the how, because the global changes that are happening in our economy as a result of the response to climate change have a real impact, and they will have a real impact here in Australia.”
Nationals have expressed concern over the impact ambitious climate targets could have on Australia's regions and industries, namely the resource and agriculture sectors.
It was reported earlier in the week that the National Party could back a net zero goal, in exchange for multi billion-dollar green investments for the regions and legislation halting climate action if rural communities suffer economically.
Morrison indicated Friday that any climate policy the government adopts will include protections for the regions.
“The plan that I'm taking forward, together with my colleagues, is about ensuring that our regions are strong, that our regions’ jobs are not only protected, but they have opportunities for the future,” he said.
“It's not just about hitting net zero. That's an important environmental goal. But, what's important is that Australia's economy goes from strength to strength, and the livelihoods and the lives that Australians know, particularly in rural and regional areas, are able to go forward with hope and with confidence. And that's what my plan will be all about, and I look forward to furthering those discussions in the weeks ahead.”
China's Xi expected to snub summit
Confirmation that Morrison will attend COP26 came as claims circulated in the media on Friday that Chinese President Xi Jinping would now not be attending the climate talks.
"It is now pretty clear that Xi is not going to turn up and the PM [Boris Johnson] has been told that," The Times quoted an unidentified British source as saying. "What we don’t know is what stance the Chinese are going to take."
The Times also claimed in its report that the British organisers fear Xi’s decision to stay away could be a prelude to China refusing to set new climate change goals amid an energy crunch.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and its emissions are expected to continue to rise in the near-term, with the government currently targeting peak emissions by 2030, ahead of a net zero emissions target of 2060.
It is understood Xi’s absence from COP26 could be a setback for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's hopes of getting world leaders to agree to a significant climate deal at the summit, which starts in a little over two weeks.