On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison almost admitted that his country had asked UK negotiators to leave certain climate commitments out of a free trade agreement reached in principle in June.
Since Sky News reported a leaked email Wednesday from a British trade “deputy director” alleging that UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had agreed that the Department of International Trade could “drop both of the climate asks,” including “a reference to the Paris Agreement,” the UK government, as well as Australia’s, have come under fire.
The contents of the leaked email have not been verified by CNN, and UK officials have declined to confirm its authenticity, but when journalists in Canberra asked Morrison why Australia had asked for the temperature reference to be removed, Morrison said that Australia wanted to keep climate and trade issues separate, without confirming the Sky News story.
“Well, it was about trade. It wasn’t a climate agreement, it was a trade agreement. And … in trade agreements, I deal with trade issues. In climate agreements, I deal with climate issues,” he told a press conference Thursday, according to a readout posted by his office.
“We’re pursuing agreements on clean energy technology with a vast number of countries, and we’ll have agreements about that. But the key agreement we’ve made is when we signed up to Paris, and the commitments that we made to achieve those. Those commitments are clear,” he said.
According to Sky News, the debate revolved around whether or not to mention a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement requires countries to try to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C, preferably closer to 1.5°C.
The UK’s Department of International Trade rebutted Sky’s reporting on Wednesday, saying it was “completely untrue” that the deal would not “sign up to” the Paris Agreement’s commitments.
“Our ambitious trade deal with Australia will include a substantive article on climate change which reaffirms both parties’ commitments to The Paris Agreement and achieving its goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue,” the statement said.
However, when CNN specifically asked if “1.5°C” would be included in the agreement, the department said it would not reveal the specifics of the talks. Kwarteng’s office declined to comment on the reports, directing CNN to a statement from the Trade Department.
Other free trade agreements signed by the UK, such as the one with the European Union, specifically mention 1.5°C.
When asked about Australia’s position on lowering the global warming limit to 1.5 degrees Celsius, Morrison only referred to the Paris Agreement, which includes the 2 degree target.
“We have signed up to our commitments under the Paris Agreement. We will meet them. We will beat them,” he said.
He added that while other countries were still making commitments, “Australia’s doing it. Australians are doing it. Australian businesses are doing it.”
“And that’s the story that we can tell to the rest of the world. Australians, we just get on with it and we are.”
The remarks will give COP26 President Alok Sharma, a British MP, a new headache as he travels the world trying to solidify 1.5°C commitments ahead of November’s talks in Glasgow. He recently returned from a trip to China, where he emphasized the importance of signing up for the more ambitious limit.
Several fossil fuel-producing countries, according to a source at a recent G20 ministerial meeting, are opposed to a more ambitious global warming limit, according to CNN. China has publicly accused the West of attempting to change the 2-degree target’s goalposts.