Fact checking Scott Morrison’s UN General Assembly speech

26.09.19 By
This article is more than 4 years old

This week, after avoiding the United Nations Climate Summit altogether, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to the global stage to defend his government’s poor climate record.

His speech to the UN general assembly was long on spin and short on fact – so we asked our climate experts to sift through the speech and hit back with the truth.

Here are our top 8 fact-checks on Morrison’s speech:

Morrison statement: “Now, Australia is also taking real action on climate change and we are getting results. We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and our economic future.”

Fact-check: Australia’s Paris target is to reduce our emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. This is one of the weakest targets amongst developed countries. If other countries adopted Australia’s target the world would be heading for catastrophic climate damage. Rising emissions and worsening climate impacts are placing Australian lives, our economy and the natural environment at risk.

Morrison statement: “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.”

Fact-check: Australia is the 17th largest polluter in the world, bigger than 175 countries. We are the third largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world.

Morrison statement: “By 2020 Australia will have overachieved on our Kyoto commitments, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 367 million tonnes more than required to meet our 2020 Kyoto target. Now there are few member countries, whether at this forum or the OECD who can make this claim.”

Fact-check: The reason for this is that Australia’s Kyoto targets were the second weakest in the world for the first commitment period (a target to increase emissions by 8% above 1990 levels) and the weakest in the world for the second commitment period (a target to reduce emissions by just 5% below 2000 levels by 2020). It isn’t hard to overachieve on dismal targets. The reality is today our emissions are going up and up – according to the government’s own data.

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Morrison statement: “Our latest estimates show both emissions per person and the emissions intensity of the economy are at their lowest levels in 29 years.”

Fact-check: Australia has the highest emissions per capita in the developed world. It is true that Australia’s emissions per capita have fallen more than most countries, but this is from an extraordinarily high baseline, and has largely been driven by rapid population growth. Even with this drop, we still have the highest per capita emissions in the developed world. Our emissions per capita are higher than Saudi Arabia, a country not known for its action on climate change. Ultimately, our international targets are not based on per capita emissions.

An image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison holding a lump of coal in parliament.Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal into the House of Representatives.

Morrison statement: “Australia’s electricity sector is producing less emissions. In the year to March 2019, emissions from Australia’s electricity sector were 15.7% lower than the peak recorded in the year to June 2009.”

Fact-check: This is cherry picking. There are 47 sectors in the Australian economy, almost all of them are going up. This figure of 15.7% is only correct for the electricity sector in the east coast of Australia, not all of Australia. While emissions from electricity are down, and this is good news, this is despite the best efforts of the Federal Government to undermine the renewable energy sector. Also, emissions from electricity production account for only 33% of our total emissions. Overall, there has been a rise in emissions from other sectors such as transport. Australia’s emissions are increasing and have been for five years in a row.

Morrison statement: “…it is important to note that Australia only accounts for around 5.5 per cent of the world’s coal production.”

Fact-check: This is spin, as it makes Australia’s contribution to climate change seem much smaller than it is. In reality, if you include Australia’s fossil fuel exports, we are the fifth largest emitter on the planet, after the US, China, EU and India. Australia is the world’s second largest coal exporter.

Morrison statement: “We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.”

Fact-check: This is woefully inadequate and not aligned to what the science says is necessary to tackle climate change. Australia’s emissions have risen every year for the past five years, across almost every sector of the economy. The Government’s commitment on paper might be 26-28%, but cheating with Kyoto credits effectively reduces our emissions reduction target to just 15%.

Morrison statement: “And our Great Barrier Reef remains one of the world’s most pristine areas of natural beauty. Feel free to visit it. Our reef is vibrant and resilient and protected under the world’s most comprehensive reef management plan.”

Fact-check: In 2016 and 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was severely damaged through back-to-back bleaching events which killed half of all corals on the planet’s largest living structure. Australia’s current goal, if followed by other countries, would sign the death warrant of the Great Barrier Reef.

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