SYDNEY (REUTERS) - British naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, has criticised Australia for changing its rhetoric on climate policy, saying the government's support for new coal mines showed the world it did not care about the environment.
Previous governments recognised their responsibility as "keepers of an extraordinary section" of the planet, including the Great Barrier Reef, Dr Attenborough said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).
"What you say, what you do, really, really matters," he said in an excerpt of the interview released ahead of its broadcast.
"And when you've been upstanding and talking what I see is the truth about what we're doing to the natural world, and then you suddenly say, 'No, no, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter how much coal we burn'... Then what do you say?" he added.
Tens of thousands of young Australians joined millions of people around the world in protests last week to demand political leaders take steps to stop climate change.
Australia's last Labor government introduced a 2012 tax on carbon emissions. It would later turn into a cap and trade scheme in a country that is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita due to its reliance on coal-fired power plants.
It was repealed in 2013 when the current conservative government took power. That same year, Australia pledged to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, but recent data shows emissions are climbing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's strong support for the coal industry, including backing a controversial proposed mine by India's Adani Enterprises, was seen as a key factor in his unexpected election win in May.
Mr Morrison has repeatedly said Australia will meet its climate accord targets, but "at a canter".
Mr Morrison is on an official visit to the United States and his office did not immediately respond to Dr Attenborough's remarks.
The Prime Minister did not attend a UN climate summit in New York this week, but will address the UN General Assembly next week.
In the interview, Dr Attenborough referred to a 2017 incident when Mr Morrison, then Treasurer, brandished a lump of coal in Parliament and told opposition members not to be afraid of it.
"I didn't think it was a joke," Dr Attenborough said.
"If you weren't opening a coal mine, OK, I would agree it's a joke. But you are opening a coal mine."