by Richie Merzian
[Originally published on 10 Daily, 01 October 2019]
Last Wednesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to the world stage, using Australia’s annual address to the United Nations (UN) to talk about the environment.
He was two days too late. And everyone at the UN, diplomats and commentators alike, knew it. Having been involved in both worlds I can safely say timing is everything.
The UN Secretary General had gathered world leaders on the Monday to prioritise climate change. Morrison skipped out on the UN Climate Summit to check out a Maccas drive through and visit a box factory with President Donald Trump, the only leader to have pulled out of the Paris Agreement.
And according to the Newspoll out today, the move to skip the Climate Summit didn’t help his approval ratings for his performance as leader, which fell from 49 per cent to 47 percent. Worse was the spike in his disapproval levels from 39 per cent to 43 percent.
The Prime Minister played his cards wrong. The speech he ultimately gave the United Nations on the environment (two days after the Summit) only made things worse — it was a dog’s breakfast. Morrison cherry picked per capita emissions and renewables investment statistics while dancing around the one metric the UN actually wanted to hear about: emissions.
The fact is Australia’s emissions are rising, but instead of committing to climate action, Morrison scolded critics for talking down Australia’s climate efforts and listening to so-called fake news.
Morrison’s speech ended with its now infamous “let kids be kids” catchcry, which really means that kids should be quiet, like their “quiet Australian” parents.
The UN Climate Action Summit was always going to be tough for the Prime Minister. By asking 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to open the Climate Action Summit, ahead of the 60 leaders that had come armed with new climate pledges, the UN Secretary General was sending a clear message: listen to your youth. At other UN Climate events I’ve attended, non-government representatives, including the youth representative, spoke at the end of the event, usually while government officials pack up, have a yarn, or leave early to catch their planes.
Timing is everything and putting Greta first set the tone. Judging by the continued massive climate strikes in New Zealand and Canada last Friday, Greta’s speech (and the petty backlash) has only galvanized the youth movement.
Until recently, Morrison had successfully ignored the youth of Australia and instead focused on applying his marketing abilities to sell the Coalition government’s “climate credentials” at home: renaming the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund to the Climate Solutions Fund, despite the revamped fund spending less money than its predecessor; creating a new portfolio: Minister for Emissions Reductions, and then giving it to a Minister that has overseen successive quarters of rising emission and is pursuing subsidies for gas and coal plants; claiming Australia will meet its Paris Agreement target “in a canter” but not producing a climate and energy policy; maintaining Australia is a small polluter, despite having higher pollution levels than 170 other countries, including 40 with larger populations than us — all while ramping up Australia’s exported fossil fuel emissions, which are already the third largest in the world.
For the purposes of the federal election, the Prime Minister’s savvy marketing skills were enough to sway some voters. But on the international stage, the marketing talk doesn’t cut it. By using Australia’s annual address to the United Nations to talk about plastics, the ozone layer, mangroves and any other ‘green’ issue he could think of, but not showing up to the UN Climate Action Summit and having no credible climate policies, Australia looked recalcitrant or even “denialist”.
You would think the Prime Minister would have wised-up after the Pacific Island Forum in August when he was shocked that the Pacific, his ‘family’, wanted Australia to pull its weight in emissions cuts, to ban new coal mines and to give more funding to the Green Climate Fund.
The Prime Minister thought skipping the UN Climate Action Summit would spare him the embarrassment he faced at the Pacific Island Forum. But when he arrived, climate was the only thing everyone was talking about. So, on Wednesday he delivered Australia’s speech, which I bet a few diplomats and staffers had recently redrafted, to wash it all away with distractions on plastic straws and invitations to the Great Barrier Reef.
The problem is the greenwashing doesn’t work like it used to.