This weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will swap Australia’s polar blast for the balminess of a seaside resort in England’s southwest. He will come face-to-face with US President Joe Biden, UK counterpart Boris Johnson and Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga at the annual Group of Seven (G7) meeting.
There may be slaps on the back between Mr. Morrison and Mr. Johnson if Australia and the UK sign a much-touted free trade deal that could bring in billions.
But there’s one area where the conversation could get a touch awkward between Australia and all the other G7 leaders in attendance. Our allies could “turn on us”.
“Every G7 country is committed to net zero emissions by 2050. But more importantly, every G7 country has also now strengthened its target to 2030,” head of research at the Climate Council Dr. Simon Bradshaw told news.com.au
“Australia’s now really alone among comparable countries in having neither committed to net-zero by at least 2050 and also by remaining stubbornly wedded to its fragile 2030 targets.” Dr. Bradshaw said that the pressure would be on the PM and Australia to “pick up its game”.
What is the G7?
The G7 is a meeting of wealthy democratic nations that counts the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. It also included Russia and was called the G8 until Moscow was kicked out in 2014 due to the annexation of Ukraine’s territory of Crimea.
Every year, leaders of the seven nations meet for a high-powered chinwag. This year, from June 11-13, that summit is taking place in Carbis Bay, a village in Cornwall so sleepy even many Brits have never heard of it.
Australia is not part of the G7, but India, South Korea, and South Africa will be a guest. Unsurprisingly Covid-19 will be top of the agenda. India’s president Narendra Modi is joining virtually due to that country’s ongoing outbreak.
G7 leaders have already declared it a success before the summit has even begun after they agreed on a deal that aims to ensure big companies, like Apple and Amazon, will have to pay a minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent.
Australia-UK, free trade deal, could be signed.
A big win at the summit could be the inking of a free trade deal with the UK for Australia. This is an even bigger win for Britain, desperate to demonstrate its new post-Brexit independent economic policy.
Currently, UK-Australia trade amounts to about $37 billion annually. This deal could see that rise with more Aussie beef in British supermarkets and more British scotch in Aussie bars.
There are problems, however. UK farmers are fearful Aussie beef, which they claim is of lesser quality, could flood the market. That could mean some tariffs and quotas remain – a “free-ish” trade deal, maybe.
Canberra’s high commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, has said the concerns are “absurd” and a “scare campaign,” and it’s more likely Australia would export high-end products rather than rump steaks.
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Awkward discussions in Carbis Bay
But it’s the future of the planet rather than free trade that will concentrate minds in Cornwall. A key reason is that the G7 meeting is merely Boris Johnson’s entree to the main course, which will be November’s United Nations COP26 climate change summit. Britain will also host this far bigger shindig in Glasgow.
“There’s going to be a lot of focus on climate change at the G7 going towards Glasgow, and Australia is going to get that sustained diplomatic pressure from its international peers,” said the Climate Council’s Dr. Bradshaw.
The previous climate summit of this magnitude in Paris in 2015 led to the Paris Agreement, which committed nations to hold any temperature increase to “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels and preferably to 1.5C.
One of the critical ways of reaching that goal was for countries to commit to so-called “net zero emissions”, which around 140 have done, most with a 2050 deadline. The G7 has now made further commitments to reach some goals by 2030.
Dr. Bradshaw said Australia’s refusal to commit to such a deadline would likely lead to some uncomfortable G7 discussions. “They’ve all made very clear they expect more of Australia. But Australia, for some reason, seems to be wanting to count itself out of that club and work against the grain,” he said.