Former diplomats challenge Australian government on climate change inaction

By on 30/09/2021 | Updated on 04/02/2022
The diplomats say a clear commitment to targets would encourage a move away from fossil fuels and greater investment in renewable energy and new green industrial processes. Photo by Vlad Chețan via Pexels

A group of 70 former Australian diplomats have written to the country’s prime minister Scott Morrison raising “deep concern” about his government’s failure to commit to climate change targets.  

The former diplomats, including ambassadors, high commissioners, consuls-general, and senior officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, warned that Australia’s “inertia” on climate change commitments “undermines our credibility as a regional partner” and “our reliability in the minds of our strategic allies”.

In an open letter, sent ahead of November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Diplomats for Climate Action Now urged the government to commit to achieving net zero emissions before 2050 and to make “more ambitious nationally determined contributions before 2030”.

Failure to do so has “implications for the climate and environment we bequeath to future generations” and for Australia’s “future strategic and economic prosperity”, the group warned.

“The challenges of climate change are matters of public importance which we believe go beyond politics; and acting on climate change now is our ethical and moral responsibility towards future generations.”

‘Time is running out’

The group referred to increasing concern from US and European countries that Australia “is not pulling its weight on climate action” and fear that the government’s inertia will “undermine many of the strong international relationships we have built up over decades”.

Australia, it said, “has a proud tradition of building effective coalitions to solve regional and global problems”, but when it comes to action on climate change, “time is running out for us to catch up with the rest of the world”.

“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 diplomats said.

Australia’s coalition government is split over whether to make the 2050 commitment. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and other Liberal ministers are in favour. Deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is against, having raised concerns about short-term job and income losses in regional Australia.

Citizen support

Climate change is a divisive topic in Australia, primarily because of the country’s sizeable oil and gas industry. It has played a part in the downfall of several prime ministers.

However, there is growing evidence that Australians want the government to do more to tackle climate change. The Lowry Institute’s annual climate change survey found that nearly 78% of respondents wanted a firm commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

A recent poll by the Australian Conservation Fund also found that the majority of

 voters – including in areas where coal and gas are key economic sectors – want action on climate change. It showed that 61% support action to cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions by at least half by 2030 and 71% of voters do not see coal and gas as part of Australia’s future energy mix.

Successive governments to blame?

The diplomats’ letter follows a TV programme that aired in May 2020, in which former Australian public service leaders condemned successive governments’ failure to tackle climate change.

Former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, ex-Treasury secretary Ken Henry, and former chief scientist Professor Penny Sackett, dubbed past and present governments’ efforts “incoherent”, like “watching a train wreck in slow motion”, and a “failure”.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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