The top US diplomat in Australia has declared both countries need to set “more ambitious climate goals” and tackle the climate crisis “head on”, as international pressure mounts on the Morrison government to act.
Mike Goldman, who is chargé d’affaires at the United States embassy in Canberra, emphasised that the US and Australia had a shared obligation to protect the planet.
The Australian government is facing growing international pressure to formally commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and to ratchet up its 2030 target in the lead-up to this year’s Glasgow climate conference, despite resistance from the Nationals.
The United Kingdom – which is the host of the Cop26 conference in Glasgow – has also made clear it wants Australia to join other countries in lifting their medium-term targets to align with the Paris goal of seeking to limit heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Goldman, the US diplomat, noted Australia and the US shared close security and economic ties but said more needed to be done on the climate crisis.
“We have much to gain together by partnering to develop new green technologies and by setting new more ambitious climate goals,” he said in a video message on Sunday. “As partners, we have a shared obligation to protect our planet by taking the climate crisis head on, just as we’ve taken on every crisis over the past 70 years.”
Goldman’s remarks, while expressed diplomatically, are a sign the US views the Australian government’s preferred focus on collaborating on new technologies as inadequate, unless backed by stronger emission reduction targets.
The comments add to previous calls from the Biden administration for Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster.
To date, the Australian government has resisted pressure to strengthen its target of a 26-28% cut in emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. It argues the target “is a floor on Australia’s ambition”.
“At the moment, I think that our colleagues in Australia recognise that there’s going to have to be a shift,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters in April. “It’s insufficient to follow the existing trajectory and hope that they will be on a course to deep decarbonisation and getting to net zero emissions by mid-century.”
The Morrison government has repeatedly characterised its approach as being about “technology not taxes”, amid pushback from the Nationals over the growing momentum to lock in a net zero commitment.
The Nationals’ decision last month to reinstate Barnaby Joyce as their leader, and therefore deputy prime minister, has fuelled speculation that the junior Coalition partner could take a stronger stand in resisting a net zero by 2050 commitment.
One of Joyce’s key allies, Queensland senator Matt Canavan, told Guardian Australia’s politics podcast on Saturday the Nationals were concerned about the net zero push, which he described as a “live policy debate”.
“In the past, when this issue of net zero emissions has been discussed there has been zero support in the [Nationals’] party room discussions for it as an idea,” he said.
Canavan said it was “absolutely the case that we are under pressure from other countries to adopt a specific target to reach net zero emissions by 2050” – but he did not see the idea of Australia becoming an international pariah on climate as a big risk.
In February, Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, publicly acknowledged past “differences” between the US and Australia in tackling the climate crisis, while calling for a faster exit from coal-fired power.
Goldman’s comments on climate were included in a video marking US Independence Day on Sunday.