Marise Payne has said that net zero emissions as soon possible and preferably by 2050 is “the broad position of the Australian government”, playing down claims by the Nationals their agreement wasn’t sought or given for a net zero target.
In an interview on ABC’s Insiders, the foreign affairs minister also said Australia’s position matters because climate change is a “key security challenge” for the Pacific and conceded that joint naval exercises in the South China Sea are at least in part directed at China over its human rights record.
Scott Morrison has been trying to telegraph a pivot on climate policy since the election of Joe Biden as the US president, signalling Australia wants to achieve net zero as soon as possible and “preferably” by 2050.
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, wants Australia to unveil more ambitious commitments before the UN’s climate change summit in Glasgow in November, and he maximised Morrison’s comments in London this week by saying Australia had already “declared for net zero”.
On Thursday the resources minister, Keith Pitt, said the government had “not committed to net zero by 2050” and that such a target would “absolutely cause damage in regional communities”.
Pitt was backed by Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, who declared his party would not be embracing a 2050 target as a firm commitment in the run-up to Glasgow.
On Sunday, Payne said Australia “wants to aim to achieve net zero emissions, preferably by 2050” and this was “the clear position that the prime minister has articulated”.
“It is a sensible position and we need to make sure that we do it not by penalising our businesses, our farmers and producers through taxes, but an absolute focus on low emissions.”
Asked if this was the government’s position, Payne agreed: “It is the broad position of the Australian government.”
Payne said Australia is “building a pathway, that takes us to a technology-driven, not tax-driven … solution in emissions reduction” which she said would benefit partnerships with countries including Germany, Singapore and Japan.
Asked how Australia’s position on climate would affect its international standing, Payne replied: “These discussions always matter and that’s why the prime minister took his views and our views to the G7 Plus.”
Payne noted Australia had signed up to the Boe declaration which recognised climate as a “key security challenge in the Pacific”.
“We understand and have supported both of those declarations and work closely with our partners in the Pacific to address the issues,” Payne said.
In the Boe declaration, Australia and other Pacific nations reaffirmed that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific” and committed to “progress the implementation of the Paris agreement”.
On his recent trip after the G7, Morrison rallied Australia’s allies towards greater global cooperation to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, lashing China for undermining the rule of law and threatening a world order that “favours freedom”.
Payne welcomed comments from the UK, US and France that acknowledged the “challenges of the geostrategic environment” and “the position in which Australia finds itself”.
“I think what the G7 Plus meeting has shown, and a number of our other engagements, is a realisation that the issues around strategic competition, the issues that we are facing in the Indo-Pacific are very real.”
Asked about Australia’s decision to send navy vessels to support Britain’s carrier strike group to the South China Sea, Payne said this is one of a number of recent exercises that “enhance interoperability” and support the application of international law.
In response to comments from Boris Johnson that the exercises are in part motivated by China’s treatment of Uyghurs and “the general repression of liberties in Hong Kong”, Payne described the naval exercises as “routine” but added that Australia is “not denying the challenges of strategic uncertainty”.
“I think there’s a range of issues at play. And certainly, Australia has been very clear in our views on the human rights issues in China, including … in relation to Xinjiang.”
Payne declined to comment on reports that China’s vice minister of state security has defected to the United States and may have passed on intelligence relating to the origins of Covid-19.
Payne said the first phase of the inquiry into the origins of Covid had “significant limitations in terms of the delay in deploying it, access to information, access to appropriate scientific and medical evidence”.
Australia is determined to work with its partners “to ensure that the phase two investigation is able to access the material that it needs, including within China”, she said.