Donald Trump is the world’s “leading climate denier”, the former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.
Turnbull, who lost the prime ministership in August 2018 in part because of his own party’s opposition to his plans to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, made the comments to BBC Newsnight on Tuesday (Wednesday morning, Australian time).
The US president told the world’s business leaders to stop listening to “prophets of doom” as he used a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum to attack the teenage activist Greta Thunberg over her climate crisis warnings.
Asked about the comments, Turnbull replied that Trump had been “quite a prophet of doom himself”, citing his acceptance speech to the 2016 Republic convention in which Trump painted the picture “of America threatened by crime and gangs [and] invasion from asylum seekers”, which Turnbull labelled “quite apocalyptic”.
“He uses the politics of fear when it suits him,” Turnbull said. “Trump is the leading climate denier in the world. He’s leading the most influential nation in the world and he’s actively working against global action to reduce emissions.”
Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015 and led Australia during the first year and a half of Trump’s presidency, famously clashing with Trump over an Obama-era refugee swap deal in the first month.
In the grip of an unprecedented season of bushfires, pressure has mounted for Australia to increase its emissions reduction targets or abandon the use of carryover credits for overperformance of Kyoto agreement targets.
The current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, re-elected in May 2019, has so far resisted pressure to increase the government’s ambition, citing fears over economic cost and the possibility technology could help Australia reduce emissions without higher targets.
Turnbull said “the fundamental problem that we face is that in too many places – the United States in particular and also in Australia – is that this issue of global warming, or global heating, has been turned into an ideological issue or values issue when it’s simply a question of physics”.
“The more greenhouse gases you pump into the atmosphere, the more of the greenhouse effect you get, the warmer the planet gets,” Turnbull said. “The consequences we are living with – hotter, drier climate, longer and more droughts, fiercer and more fires.”
Turnbull was also asked about former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd’s warning that the idea that the UK’s trade with commonwealth countries could make up for exiting the European Union was “utter bollocks”.
Turnbull said he would “express it differently” but agreed that trade with Australia, Canada and other commonwealth countries was “not a substitute for the European Union”.
“The problem that Britain faces today is simply this: that in an age of rising protectionism, the United Kingdom has chosen to walk out of the biggest free-trade area in the world,” Turnbull said. “Its economic prospects, its trade prospects now depend on cutting new and better deals with a whole range of countries, not least is the EU itself.”