Scott Morrison Dodging The COP26 Climate Conference Is Bad News For All Of Us

Scott Morrison chickening out of next month's conference sends a terrible message to the rest of the world.

cop26 australia scott morrison

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The United Nations’ COP26 is the biggest climate conference in the world, and this year’s event is already being dubbed “the world’s best last chance” to address the climate emergency, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison is unlikely to attend.

The UN Climate Change Conference — aka COP26 — will run from October 31 to November 12, with over 190 nations coming together in Glasgow to address the climate emergency that continues to wreak havoc on life as we know it.

So what exactly is the COP26, why is it so important and what does Scott Morrison’s absence mean for Australia?

What Is COP26, And Why Does It Matter?

To put it simply, it’s the most important climate conference in the world. Occurring annually since 1995, the COP brings together politicians and policy makers from across the globe to discuss climate targets and touch base on how we’re going with reducing emissions. More than 190 countries who have signed up to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change attend the event annually.

It is called the ‘COP’ because these annual meetings are formally known as the “conference of the parties.”

This year’s event — COP26  is particularly important as it is the first COP to take place since the Paris Agreement measures were implemented. COP26 was originally scheduled for November 2020, but was postponed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the issue of climate injustice makes this year’s COP particularly noteworthy. According to the director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development Saleemul Huq, “not everybody contributed to [the] emissions of greenhouse gases equally.”

In short, rich countries have historically contributed more to climate change, while poorer countries are the ones who will be the biggest victims of it.

What Is The Paris Agreement?

The Paris Climate Accords — aka the “Paris Agreement” is a legally binding treaty that was signed by 196 nations at the 21st COP back in 2015. The primary goal of the agreement is to limit global warning to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” by the start of the next century.

As part of the agreement, each country agreed to emissions reduction targets known as their “nationally determined contribution” (NDC).

NDC targets are set by the countries themselves and not by the UN. However, the annual COP conference is an important event on the calendar because international pressure and the media publicity of the event could see nations (*cough* Australia *cough*) announce more ambitious NDC targets.

What Will Be Discussed?

Participating countries were asked to submit their long-term climate action proposal to the UN last year, so this will be a major talking point at COP26.

In addition to the ambition of tackling the ever-growing climate emergency, COP26 will also have to finish the work that didn’t get done at COP25 back in 2019. Specifically, rules for a carbon market between countries will need to be ironed out at COP26.

Climate aid, which will see the biggest carbon emitters financially support developing nations in tackling the climate crisis, will be a major talking point of this year’s event.

Last year, a goal was set to provide $100 billion in funding annually to help minimise greenhouse gas emissions. However, developed nations (like us) fell way short of holding up their end of this agreement. Holding countries accountable to these pledges will likely be up for discussion in Glasgow.

Why Isn’t Scott Morrison Going?

Scott Morrison hasn’t totally ruled out attending COP26, but has indicated it is pretty unlikely as it would require him to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine for the fourth time this year.

“When those (talks) are taking place, we will still be subject to 14 days’ quarantine based on my understanding of where states and territories are,” Morrison said in a press conference on Friday. “I will have spent, if I do that, a total of four times 14-day quarantine, basically, in this building, not being able to engage in my normal duties around the country as much as I would like to…That’s a long time for a prime minister to be in quarantine in a six-month period.”

While Morrison isn’t wrong in asserting that spending 56 days in quarantine isn’t ideal for a Prime Minister, it all feels a bit rich considering his history of personal travel during the pandemic.

It is worth noting that a senior minister is expected to represent Australia at the event, but there is no word yet on who will make the trip.

What Is Australia’s Stance?

After years of doing next to nothing on climate action in Australia, Scott Morrison is reportedly in the process of developing a target of net-zero by 2050. Sure, it is quite literally years after many of our overseas mates, but this is quite literally huge for Australia.

Last week, Morrison told Channel 7 he was trying “to bring my government together” on climate change. “I’m keen to ensure I bring people together on this so Australians can have confidence we are dealing with climate change, that we care deeply about their concerns about what the change means for them,” the PM said.

In response to the Australian British Chamber of Commerce, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor stated that “for our part, Australia will be focussed on practical outcomes, as we always have been.”

“In the pre-COP meetings, Australia’s negotiating team and I have focussed on trying to support sensible compromises to achieve progress on the outstanding elements of the Paris Rule Book,” he said in a lengthy statement, noting that transparency, accountability and clean technology development will be Australia’s focus for reaching net-zero.

Heck, even the Mineral Council of Australia — which represents mining giants like BHP and Rio Tinto — supports a 2050 net-zero target. Yes. Even the mining industry is pro-net-zero now.

“A more sustainable minerals sector is not only important for Australia’s post-COVID recovery, it is also helping to sustain and improve the lives of millions around the world,” chief executive Tania Constable said.

However, the Nationals — including Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan — have indicated that a net-zero target is the hill they’re willing to die on. Canavan, who is “deadset against net zero emissions”, went so far as to (falsely) claim net-zero targets are the reason for the UK’s energy crisis right now.

Meanwhile, Joyce told ABC’s Insiders that he is “perplexed there’s not more discussion about what’s happening in the UK and Europe with energy prices.”

“A 250 percent [price] increase since the start of the calendar year. A few days ago, 850,000 people losing their energy provider and a real concern over there about their capacity as they go into winter to keep themselves warm and even keep the food production processes going through,” said Joyce.

There’s no secret that the UK is dealing with a significant energy crisis, but it is ludicrous to suggest that net-zero targets are the reason for it.

“It’s outrageous to suggest the current UK energy situation is the result of a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. It is primarily a gas crisis, fuelled by the nation’s slow transition to lower carbon sources,” Aimee Ambrose, Professor in Energy Policy, Sheffield Hallam University told The Conversation.

What Does This Mean For Australia?

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asserted that failing to attend COP26 would be a bad look for Australia. “History is made by those who turn up. If Mr Morrison decides not to go to Glasgow, he is sending a message,” Mr Turnbull said at the National Press Club last week. “We should be updating our 2030 target, that was always the intention to update these targets every five years, and I am disappointed the government has not done that.”

Turnbull himself will be attending the event as a business representative, rather than as a politician.

“It troubles me that we still have this nonsense from the government of a gas-led recovery. We have got to be getting out of coal and out of gas,” he said. “You have got ministers saying we are going to be burning coal forever. If we burn coal forever, the planet is going to be fried.”

Meanwhile, British High Commissioner to Australia Victoria Treadell has made it clear that the UK will be “very disappointed” if Morrison chooses to send another minister instead of personally attending the event.

“We’d very much love him (Mr Morrison) to attend. We haven’t received confirmation one way or the other. But I know that a decision will be pending so we remain hopeful,” she told ABC Radio, clarifying that Australia is expected to be more ambitious with its climate action.

“But whatever the level of participation, we would still be asking the same requirement of Australia for a yet more ambitious position on climate action.”

Basically, Australia needs to start pulling its weight when it comes to climate action if we want to be taken seriously on the world stage. If Scott Morrison chooses to send another minister to COP26 in his place, we are already entering the summit on a bad foot.

Junkee reached out to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s offices for comment.