Prime Minister Scott Morrison has used the world stage to pledge Australia will take a lead role in cleaning up and protecting oceans, while also hitting out at criticism that the nation was not doing enough to tackle climate change.
“Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution,” he said in his inaugural speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
“Australia is responsible for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions. Australia is doing our bit on climate change and we reject any suggestion to the contrary.”
The Prime Minister also invoked the spectre of the tensions between the US and China and said Australia would not take sides.
His key message was about the oceans – the scourge of plastic pollution and illegal fishing – both of which he said posed threats to ocean-dependent nations like Australia and its Pacific neighbours.
“Scientists estimate that in just 30 years’ time the weight of plastics in our oceans will exceed the weight of fish,” he said.
Mr Morrison listed the initiatives already underway, including his proposed ban of exports of plastic, paper, glass and tyres from 2020, as well as $167 million in grants announced during the election to help commercialise recycling.
“Preventing pollution entering our oceans, and creating valuable new products,” he said in his speech.
Mr Morrison believes commercially viable recycling should be facilitated by government but led by the private sector. He cited the initiative announced in New York overnight by Andrew “Twiggy” Forest’s Minderoo Foundation.
It aims to initially raise $US20 billion ($29 billion) and eventually as much as $US100 billion a year via a levy or fee on the world’s makers of plastic. The industry would use the money to collect waste plastic, and recycle it back into new polymer resins.
“Industry-led mechanisms for investing in new recycling technologies and mitigating plastic waste in rivers, beaches and oceans on a global scale are essential,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison also cited illegal fishing as a threat to Australia and the region and without naming names, blasted those nations which practise it as thieves.
“There are too many nations standing by while their nationals are thieving the livelihoods of their neighbours,” he said.
“Australia is acting not only in our own interest but helping Pacific Island countries to reduce illegal fishing which depletes the fish stocks Pacific Islanders rely on for jobs, revenue and food security.”
Australia has borne some criticism this week in New York over climate change, fuelled in part by Mr Morrison decision not to attend attend a UN climate summit on Monday.
This included a spray from Sir David Attenborough this week against Mr Morrison for once bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.
Mr Morrison’s UN speech was heavy in defence.
Mr Morrison noted his recent decision, announced at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, to give Pacific neighbours $500 million in foreign aid to help mitigate the effects of climate change, rather than donate to the UN’s Global Green Climate Fund.
“This enables us to target our support directly to Pacific Island nations, ensuring they receive this support in a more timely and targeted fashion,” he said.
“At the same time, it provides greater transparency, fairness and accountability to Australian taxpayers who rightly demand attention and support from government to address challenges at home, in particular boosting drought resilience through our investment in national water grid infrastructure.”
Mr Morrison said Austraia’s Paris target of reducing emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per ent on 2005 levels was “a credible, fair, responsible and achievable contribution to global climate change action”.
He mentioned the expansion of the Snowy-Hydro scheme, and said Australia led the world in renewable energy.
“Australia now has the highest per capita investment in clean energy technologies of anywhere in the world and one in five Australian households has rooftop solar systems,’ he said.
“We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and economic future.”
Mr Morrison sad the concerns children have for the environment and their future must be respected and taken seriously.
“We must respect and harness the passion and aspiration of our younger generations, rather than allow others to compound or, worse, facelessly exploit their anxiety for their own agendas,” he said.
“We must similarly not allow their concerns to be dismissed or diminished as this can also increase their anxiety. What parent could do otherwise.
“Our children have a right not just to their future but to their optimism.”
The speech capped off a week-long official visit to the United States which has been dominated by trying to balance the relationship with the US with that of China.
“The world today is complex and contested,” Mr Morrison told the UN.
“Many fatalistically see a polarised world where countries feel pushed to make binary choices. Australia will continue to resist this path.
“Australia will continue to seek to honestly maintain our great alliances and comprehensive partnerships in good repair, from our great and powerful friends to our smallest Pacific Island family neighbours.”
This article originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review. Read the original story here.
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