June 16, 2024


The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, has savaged the Coalition after a frontbencher insisted the opposition was “absolutely committed” to the Paris climate agreement a day after leader Peter Dutton foreshadowed he would scrap Labor’s target to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030.

Dutton told the Weekend Australian he would oppose the legislated 2030 target – a 43% cut compared with 2005 levels – at the next election, declaring there was “no sense in ­signing up to targets you don’t have any prospect of achieving”.

On Sunday, the shadow communications minister, David Coleman, said the Coalition would release its full climate policy “well in advance of the election” but warned it was “not going to just blindly accept a [2030] forecast that’s obviously wrong”.

“We are absolutely committed to the net zero target by 2050,” Coleman told ABC TV on Sunday. “We are absolutely committed to the Paris agreement but we’re not going to maintain a [climate change minister] Chris Bowen fantasy when it’s plainly not going to happen.”

Bowen on Sunday afternoon said Coleman had done a “valiant job” trying to say “white is black” after his leader’s comments were reported.

“The fact of the matter is, the Paris accord is crystal clear. There can be no backsliding. If you reduce your target, then you’re in breach of the Paris accord,” Bowen said.

Climate diplomacy experts agree Dutton’s position could break Australia’s 2015 commitment to the Paris agreement, under which nearly 200 countries said they would aim to limit global heating to well below 2C and attempt to limit it to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Departmental projections last year suggested Australia was likely to achieve a 42% emissions cut by 2030 based on an assessment of existing and announced policies.

“Very clearly, 42% puts us within striking distance of 43% and here’s the key difference – Peter Dutton is giving up on it. We’re saying we’re still working to achieve it,” Bowen said on Sunday, adding Dutton was “obsessed ideologically with a nuclear fantasy”.

Australia’s net zero emissions by 2050 commitment was made by the former Morrison government after weeks of crisis meetings between the Liberals and the Nationals ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow in 2021.

The legally binding international treaty requires countries to offer increasingly ambitious emissions reduction targets in an effort to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above preindustrial levels. To do so, it notes “greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030”.

Under the agreement, Australia has committed to announce a new emissions reduction target for 2035 by February.

The move by Dutton to ditch a 2030 target at the next federal election was labelled a “big mistake” by Labor frontbencher Jason Clare on Sky News on Sunday. Clare said it made Tony Abbott – who is sceptical of human-induced climate change – “look like Al Gore”.

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“Any Australian who thinks climate change is real would think now that Peter Dutton is a real risk – [not just a] risk to investment or a risk to jobs but just a risk that Australia will do nothing to tackle climate change,” Clare said.

“You know, even Tony Abbott didn’t pull out of a global agreement on climate change and he thinks it’s crap.”

Kooyong MP Monique Ryan described the scrapping of a 2030 target while committing to a net zero by 2050 target as “nonsense”.

“They’re just trying to keep the door open for as long as possible for coal and gas and they’ll say anything in the meantime. But it’s obfuscation and it’s insincere,” Ryan told Guardian Australia.

The Coalition is expected to soon release its nuclear power plan as part of its pathway to net zero by the middle of the century.

Dutton in the Weekend Australian interview reportedly conceded a nuclear power plant would not be built before 2040 under the Coalition’s plan – a point made by experts and critics who have accused the opposition of planning to delay action to address the climate crisis.

In the meantime, the opposition leader planned to unveil a new gas strategy before Australians go to the polls before May 2025 – noting there had “never been any doubt in my mind that gas is ­absolutely essential”.

Clare said nuclear “costs a bomb” and wouldn’t rate well with the general Australian public.

“It costs a fortune wherever it’s been rolled out, or attempted to be rolled out. Around the world costs have blown out. So it costs a bomb. It takes too long.



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