Morrison Says China Should 'Do More' On Climate While Holding Fast On Emissions Targets

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted China should do more to address environmental issues, including climate, and face tougher trade obligations that reflect its power.

As the United Nations Climate Action Summit opened in New York, the PM spoke at the Chicago Institute for Global Affairs, where he praised China's economic growth.

Morrison suggested the country should be treated as a developed -- rather than developing -- economy in responding to challenges such as oceans, climate and plastics pollution.

"China's economic growth is welcomed by Australia and we recognise the economy maturity that it is now realised as a newly developed economy," Morrison said, adding this needs to be reflected in the country's trade obligations.

Scott Morrison gave his US visit keynote address in Chicago. Photo: AAP

"Having achieved this status, it's important that China's trade arrangements and participation in addressing important global environmental challenges," he said.

"As nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them also shift."

While the PM did not specifically mention climate change in the speech, he said China should come under the same environmental obligations as other developed countries.

He made the comments ahead of flying to New York for United Nations meetings. Australia was not invited to speak at the climate summit, with speaking engagements restricted only to those countries with new concrete commitments.

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According to the UN, governments and private sector leaders delivered major announcements at the summit, with 77 countries committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Seventy countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have already started doing so.

Among them was China, which said it would cut emissions by over 12 billion tons annually -- and would "pursue a path of high quality growth and low carbon development".

But Australia was not singled out.

Instead, Morrison held fast to Australia's target of cutting emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

"I'm committed to what I took to the Australian people; that was 26 percent for 2030 and that's what we'll achieve," he told reporters in Chicago, while the climate summit was opening in New York.

Asked if he felt the need to say something about longer-term targets, Morrison said: "Not at this point".

Instead of stronger emissions targets, the PM said he is focused on practical environmental actions.

"It's about plastics, it's about oceans, it's about recycling," he said.

Australia's emissions have increased over the past few years, while the US' have been trending downwards for a decade.

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It comes as Sir David Attenborough also doubled down on his criticism of the Morrison government's climate record.

Speaking to the ABC's Hack program, in an interview that will air on Tuesday evening, the naturalist and documentary maker said Australia is the "keeper of an extraordinary section" of the planet.

"What you say, what you do, really, really matters," he told Hack.

Sir David Attenborough has criticised the Morrison government's climate record. Photo: Getty

He said while previous governments have been saying "all the right things", the same could not be said for the Morrison government.

"When you’ve been upstanding and talking, what I see, is the truth about what we are doing to the natural world, and you suddenly say, ‘it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much coal we burn’," he began. 

"...Or indeed say, 'well this is the economic solution to some of our economic problems’, but then go on to say, ‘but we don’t give a damn what it does to the rest of the world’, what do you say?"

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Attenborough also responded to Morrison, then as Treasurer, bringing a lump of coal into parliament in 2017.

“I don’t think it was a joke,” he said. “If you weren’t opening a coalmine OK I would agree, it’s a joke. But you are opening a coalmine.”

He praised the scores of young people who have taken to the streets in recent climate protests across the globe.

"Young people see things very clearly, and it’s their world ... They are the people who are going to inherit the mess that we’ve made," he said. 

"And you can say, ‘well it gets nowhere’. It gets you noticed. It gets people listening to what you say, and that you’re important."

With AAP.