EU ambassador Dr Michael Pulch still holds hope for Australia following COP26 Glasgow summit disappointment

European Union ambassador to Australia Dr Michael Pulch discusses the implications for Australia following the COP26, pictured at the European Union Commission. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
European Union ambassador to Australia Dr Michael Pulch discusses the implications for Australia following the COP26, pictured at the European Union Commission. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The summit concluded without strong, binding targets for the world's largest fossil fuel producers to commit to, as Australia's contribution was described as a "great disappointment to the rest of the world" by a top climate advisor in the United Kingdom.

Watching on from his leafy residence in Yarralumla, the European Union ambassador to Australia Dr Michael Pulch had a more optimistic outlook on the summit's outcomes.

Despite some setbacks, the experienced envoy was grateful the summit's negotiations achieved something crucial for the planet's future hopes: it was able to lift the quality of targets, setting a stronger starting position for next year's summit in Egypt.

"We achieved probably more than we expected going into it, but less than we hoped for," Dr Pulch told The Canberra Times days after the lights were switched off at the once-abuzz conference centre in Glasgow.

"You have to create a bit of excitement, and buzz, in order to also create a bit of a pressure point for countries really to walk the extra mile and bring something to the table.

"But then there is a certain moment where you also have to step back a bit and lower the expectations so that the bar isn't too high.

"We have to continue pushing for additional ambition."

Countries, including Australia, signed on to a pledge phasing down coal, which UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as a "death knell" for coal.

But a separate pledge, championed by US President Joe Biden, to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent this decade was not agreed to by Australia.

Dr Pulch said it was a disappointing result but still showed progress in the right direction.

"[Coal's phasing down] was not what we would have supported but it is a step in that direction and it is a signal," he said.

"If you look at this country, all the big business groups have stepped up and said 'we would like, as a country, to do more' and I think this becomes a strong driver of climate change [action]."

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In the trading bloc, Dr Pulch explained there was a shift years ago in the thinking toward climate action.

Instead of setting broad targets, countries would look at practical changes for sectors and industries to achieve in order to reach more ambitious emissions reductions targets.

Considerations for climate change and carbon pollution were also baked into every policy decision, he said.

"We started a process of mainstreaming climate change so it's not separate but it becomes a part of everything," he said.

"Automatically, whatever you do, in terms of new regulation, of new technologies that are introduced in the market, you start looking at that and say, what's the climate aspect of it? What's the carbon aspect of it?

"You have to create that mindset, that it is part of the natural process in every stage of a new product or a new sector development.

He said that knowledge was being shared with Australia to help with its transition to a greener economy.

However, the major trading bloc is unlikely to sign any free trade agreements with Australia without first seeing a strong commitment by the federal government to reduce emissions considerably by 2030.

Months earlier, the UK and Australia announced they had finalised a new free trade deal.

Leaked documents revealed in September appeared to suggest specific climate targets had been omitted from the trade deal despite references to tackling climate change in line with the Paris agreement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended against the criticism, insisting it was a trade pact, not a climate agreement.

But Dr Pulch said the European Union doesn't budge on excluding climate change targets, adding that trade agreements need to pass through the European Parliament, which is heavily influenced by environmental parties.

"Our approach has always been substance before speech so there are a few areas where we need to make more progress still," he said.

"The fact that Australia signed up to [a] 2050 [net zero target] I think was a very important step in that regard, and crucial."

Negotiations between the EU and Australia were postponed to early next year in the midst of a diplomatic spat between Australia and France over a billion-dollar submarine deal.

Tensions within the Coalition government were also at a high over whether to commit to a net zero emissions promise ahead of the climate summit.

While Dr Pulch did not comment on whether these events had set back talks, he has previously warned the EU is willing to make trading partners pay the price for not setting higher emissions reductions targets.

"Putting a price on carbon is essential, one way or another," he said in an opinion piece last month.

"We want to lead by example and engage with partners, but we are prepared to take more action if necessary."

With planning already underway for the next COP summit in Egypt next year, Dr Pulch is hopeful the world is in a good position to continue setting the bar higher.

"After the COP is before the COP," he said.

"[Glasgow] achieved a few very important things and on others, it set the tone for the next COP 27 to pick up and continue."

This story 'Less than we hoped for' on COP26: EU envoy first appeared on The Canberra Times.