Australian PM says net zero climate target not brought up in first call with Joe Biden

Scott Morrison says the US president-elect expressed he was looking forward to ‘working closely’ with Australia on global challenges

Prime minister of Australia Scott Morrison on the phone to president-elect Joe Biden
Scott Morrison says Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the US election was ‘not a matter for Australia’ after his first call with president-elect Joe Biden. Photograph: Twitter/ Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison says Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the US election was ‘not a matter for Australia’ after his first call with president-elect Joe Biden. Photograph: Twitter/ Scott Morrison

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 00.28 EST

Scott Morrison has congratulated US president-elect Joe Biden on his election victory in a call that canvassed mutual challenges including Covid-19 and climate change.

On Thursday, Morrison told reporters in Canberra that although the “specific matter” of a target of net zero emissions by 2050 was not discussed, he had raised the similarity of their policies on emissions reduction technology.

As Donald Trump continues to dispute the result, Morrison said he is “not concerned” that the incumbent president is refusing to concede and Australia will “respect the processes the US have” during the transition from one president to the next.

According to the US read-out of the call, Biden said he “looks forward to working closely” with Morrison on challenges including Covid-19, global health, “confronting climate change”, the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy and “maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”.

The call comes ahead of Morrison’s visit next week to Japan and Papua New Guinea, his first international diplomatic trip since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Morrison, who developed a close rapport with Trump, held his first call with Biden since the election on Thursday morning.

Morrison had already congratulated Biden on his win on Sunday and signalled he would invite him to visit Australia for the 70th anniversary of the Anzus treaty in 2021.

Morrison told reporters the US president-elect was “very interested” in Australia’s success combatting Covid-19 and the pair discussed “security and the environmental challenges that Australia and the US can work together on, particularly in the areas of emissions reducing technologies”.

Asked if this included the need to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, Morrison replied they did not discuss that “specific matter”.

“I raised with the president-elect the similarity between the president-elect’s comments and policies regarding emissions reduction technologies that we needed to achieve that, and we look forward to working on those issues,” he said.

In late October, Morrison was embarrassed by the UK’s read-out of a discussion with Boris Johnson, which said the British prime minister had “stressed that we need bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK’s experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand in hand”.

Johnson’s reference to “the importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero” was omitted from the Australian read-out.

Biden’s election adds to Australia’s isolation, as the Morrison government equivocates on what he now calls the net zero “aspiration”.

Morrison also said that it was “not a matter for Australia” to comment on Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election.

“This is not the first transition from one president to the next, it happens from time to time and those procedures are well-established and the president-elect and I discussed that this morning,” he said.

“And we both have due respect that and there are matters still afoot that we are working with the current administration on and we will continue to do that. That is quite regular.”

Ahead of his trip to Japan and Papua New Guinea, Morrison told reporters Australia has a “special relationship” with Japan including economic, cultural, social and strategic considerations. Along with India and the US, the two countries form the “security quadrilateral”, a counterweight to China in the south-west Pacific.

Morrison will travel to Tokyo on 17 and 18 November and Port Moresby on 18 and 19 November.

“This will be my first meeting with the new prime minister of Japan, his excellency Mr Suga Yoshihide,” Morrison said in a statement.

“Japan will play an important role in our economic recovery from Covid-19.

“I hope we can chart a course for the reopening of travel, and discuss ways to deepen our trade ties worth $86bn, including under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement.” The remarks come amid a continued deterioration of Australia-China ties, with fears persisting among Australian exporters of further trade bans by China.

After opening a travel bubble with New Zealand in October, Japan is on a short list of low-risk countries whose citizens will likely be the next able to travel to Australia.

Morrison said he will visit James Marape, the prime minister of PNG, to discuss “shared regional and global objectives, ahead of a formal bilateral visit I hope to make next year”.

“Australia, Japan and Papua New Guinea have managed the coronavirus incredibly well, and I am confident the precautions in place during this travel will minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.”

After the trip Morrison will self-isolate for 14 days at the Lodge in Canberra, meaning he will attend the penultimate parliamentary sitting week by video link.