The Biden administration is ready to challenge countries whose inaction on the climate crisis is setting the world back, including those that fail to cut their reliance on coal, the top American diplomat has warned.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, called for much stronger action to address global heating over the course of this decade, hours after Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, continued to emphasise the costs of acting on climate change.
The prime minister told the Business Council of Australia on Monday evening that net zero emissions would not be achieved by “taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet”.
“We’re not going to achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities,” Morrison said, adding it would be “achieved by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists”.
Morrison is among 40 leaders invited to join a virtual climate summit hosted by Joe Biden later this week.
Blinken’s speech in Maryland on Tuesday morning Australian time was part of an attempt to build momentum for countries to commit to stronger climate action, including more ambitious 2030 targets.
Without naming any particular countries, Blinken said the US state department would “weave” the climate crisis into the fabric of everything it did.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action – or inaction – is setting the world back,” Blinken said.
“When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are.”
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Blinken said the US would “seize every chance we get to raise these issues with our allies and partners and through multilateral institutions”.
While there was no direct reference to Australia in the speech, the Australian government has continued to promote the future of coal and members of the Nationals have been pushing for new coal-fired power plants.
With the US expected to unveil a new 2030 emission cut before Biden’s summit, Blinken said: “We need the whole world focused on taking action now and through this decade to promote the achievement of net zero global emissions by 2050.”
To date, the Australian government has resisted pressure to strengthen its target of a 26% to 28% cut in emissions by 2030 (compared with 2005 levels) – but argues the target “is a floor on Australia’s ambition”, meaning it hopes to do better.
Morrison reaffirmed on Monday evening that his government’s policy was to reach net zero “as quickly as possible and preferably by 2050”. He is yet to formally commit to that goal.
With the Morrison government expected to face increased international pressure over the climate crisis, analysts say Australia will not be able to “fly under the radar”.
On Monday night, Morrison argued Australia was “doing its heavy lifting in our part of the world” and was seeking to improve the viability of new technologies.
“Don’t let it be said by those who want to talk Australia down in what we’re doing on emissions that we’re not carrying our load. We are, and we are leading the way,” Morrison said.
“It is this practical approach of making new technologies commercial that will see not only us achieve our goals, but those we work with around the world, in the developing economies of the world. And without taxing the life out of industries that are a source of high wage jobs to so many Australians, especially in regional areas.”
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will tell a clean technology and jobs event on Tuesday that Australia cannot afford “further drift and time-wasting” when it comes to the transition to renewable energy because there is “huge potential” to create hundreds of thousands of secure, well-paid jobs.
The US withdrew from the Paris agreement when Donald Trump was president, but Biden rejoined as soon as he took office, and the new president is seeking to press countries to take stronger action against what he has warned is an “existential threat”.
In February Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, publicly acknowledged past “differences” between the United States and Australia in tackling the climate crisis while calling for a faster exit from coal-fired power.
Blinken said on Tuesday the climate crisis was fuelling national security threats – but it would be a mistake to think about the issue only through the prism of threats. The US secretary of state pointed to opportunities for American innovation, industry and jobs.
The US government was mindful that, despite the opportunities of climate change, “not every American worker will win out in the near term”, and would ensure coal workers were not left behind during the transition, Blinken said.
Despite the US and China pledging last weekend to cooperate on tackling the climate crisis, Blinken said the Biden administration would not treat “other countries’ progress on climate as a chip they can use to excuse bad behaviour in other areas that are important to our national security”.