War of words over Dutton’s emissions plan

Australia’s climate debate is heating up again as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slams an opposition plan to water down emissions targets if elected.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and opposition leader Peter Dutton. File photo: AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and opposition leader Peter Dutton. File photo: AAP

The coalition still wants to reach net zero by 2050 but leader Peter Dutton plans to ditch the interim 2030 target to cut emissions by 43 per cent, arguing the Labor government’s target is not achievable.

Work is under way on the opposition’s plan to reach net zero, which is expected to include a tilt into nuclear power and an expanded role for gas – much different to the federal government’s plan and likely to set the scene for revived political fracturing on the matter.

Albanese said abandoning the 2030 goal amounted to walking away from the Paris Accord.

“If you walk away from the Paris Accord, you’ll be standing with Libya, Yemen and Iran and against all of our major trading partners and all of our important allies,” he said in Canberra on Monday.

“Peter Dutton is worse than (former coalition prime minister) Scott Morrison on climate change.”

Under the Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, members are supposed to progressively raise the bar on their plans to cut emissions.

Opposition climate change and energy spokesman Ted O’Brien said the Paris Agreement would not be “ripped up” were a coalition government elected next year when polls are expected.

But he said the government had no chance of meeting its 2030 target, which included a plan for 82 per cent renewables, and his party would not be “basing our targets on false promises”.

“By Labor failing to achieve their 43 per cent target, they will be in breach of the Paris Agreement,” he said on Monday.

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The prime minister said it was possible to meet the 2030 target and with business certainty provided by his government, renewables projects would ramp up .

“I’m very confident that we can get there but, importantly, that we must get there,” he said.

Carbon Market Institute chief executive officer John Connor said weakening or failing to meet national emissions commitments “was not technically a breach of, or withdrawal from, the Paris Agreement, but is clearly against its spirit and intent”.

He said watering down what is known as a “nationally determined contribution” would be “globally historic” and could have severe diplomatic and economic consequences.

Participation in the Paris agreement has been a condition of each European Union free trade agreement since 2015, he offered by way of example.

A lack of clarity on decarbonisation could also deter global capital already flowing to places with firmer policy footing, like the US with its Inflation Reduction Act.

The prime minister warned stepping back from climate commitment would be “catastrophic” for Australia’s relationships with Pacific nations and the rest of the world.

The coalition is still working on its energy policy but it is expected to include plans for nuclear energy plants on the sites of old coal-fired power stations.

A CSIRO report released in May showed a nuclear power plant would cost at least $8.5 billion and could take beyond 2040 to complete because of infrastructure, security and safely hurdles.


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