If Australia’s allies were worried that the country might cause them problems at upcoming climate talks in Glasgow, the events of the past week should leave little doubt in their minds. It will.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday all but confirmed a report that his country had pressured the UK into dropping key climate commitments from their bilateral trade agreement, showing no sign of regret or embarrassment at being caught out. And on Monday last week, when a senior UN official warned Australia’s climate inaction would eventually “wreak havoc” on its economy, Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt, dismissed the UN as a “foreign body” that should mind its own business. He even bragged about Australia’s plans to keep mining coal “well beyond 2030,” while much of the developed world is already well on its way to phasing out the fossil fuel.
Australia is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world with its obstinate approach to the climate crisis. Leaders like US climate envoy John Kerry and COP26 President Alok Sharma have been focused recently on the climate challenge of China — but it’s Australia that’s emerging as the real pariah of the COP26 talks. “Of all the developed countries, Australia has the poorest standing on climate. It’s clear that Australia will just be absent, basically, from the talks,” Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, told CNN.
“They were quite happy with the role the United States played until last year, and now of course they seem to be the last-man standing from the Western countries to block progress,” he said, referring to the US’ absence in global climate efforts during the Trump years. The UK has also come under criticism for bowing to Australia in the countries’ bilateral trade agreement, in which an explicit reference to containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius appears to have been taken off the table. But a British official close to the negotiations in the lead-up to COP26 said that the UK had otherwise been consistent in its messaging to the Australian government to take the crisis more seriously. Part of that messaging included denying Morrison a slot to speak at the Climate Ambition Summit in December last year, an event organized by the UK’s COP26 presidency, the UN and France.