Environment Minister Greg Hunt has pushed for bigger emissions cuts.Abbott should not be a carbon copy on climatePolitical science is the only one PM trusts
The Abbott government says its major policy plank against global warming, to be announced on Tuesday ahead of the Paris Climate Change Conference, will strike the right balance between protecting the global environment and safeguarding Australian jobs and economic growth.
But climate change activists fear that is merely code for timid action that could result in Australia’s maximum 2 degrees “carbon budget” busted before 2030, leaving other countries to do the heavy lifting.
Federal cabinet convened on Monday evening to settle on Australia’s post-2020 carbon dioxide emissions cuts, following strong declarations of intent by most other developed economies in recent months.
The green policy space is likely to remain a central election battleground for the remainder of this term, especially if climate-science recalcitrants in the cabinet have succeeded in watering down the tougher target, being sought by key ministers Julie Bishop, Greg Hunt and Malcolm Turnbull.
Ms Bishop, who as Foreign Minister has prime responsibility for global climate negotiations, has reportedly been an advocate for stronger action, having participated in countless international forums where global warming remains a consistent and dominant theme.
Environment Minister Mr Hunt has also pushed for higher cuts, aware that comparable economies have acted decisively,with the US opting for a 26 to 28 per cent cut on 2005 levels by 2025, and resource-rich Canada also going harder than originally feared with a cut of 30 per cent on 2005 levels of emissions by 2030.
Speaking on the ABC’s AM program on Monday, Mr Hunt refused to commit to the maximum 2 degrees warming goal – the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – saying: “No. We are part of that global goal, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily adopt these targets in any way shape or form.”
In a sign of the fractious politics inside the government, insiders said that even going into the cabinet discussion, no one firm position had been “definitively recommended”.
Speculation suggested the Abbott government would pitch somewhere in the US-Canada range – perhaps a promise of a 28 per cent cut on 2005 levels by 2030.
However, that has green groups worried because they say striking a superficial similarity with the US is potentially misleading and that to nominate 28 per cent would mean Australia’s commitment would not even be as high as Canada’s at 30 per cent by 2030.
Because of its shorter end point, the US pledge of 26 to 28 per cent by 2025 amounts to a much more ambitious 40 per cent cut on 2005 levels by the 2030 timeline.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was living in the past on climate policy.
“Rather than focus on the jobs and investment renewables bring, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey call wind farms ugly,” he said.
“Today, the government needs to demonstrate how their targets are consistent with its commitment to the 2 degree warming scenario.
“Australia can’t afford to sit on the sidelines or turn our back on the global consensus; we can’t afford to let Tony Abbott’s flat earth views hold our country back.”
Already the carbon policy debate, which so dominated Australian politics in 2013 and helped seal the fate of the ALP in the form of the broken carbon tax promise, has been ratcheted up, resulting in leaked government modelling of Labor’s proposed emissions cuts.
News Corporation newspapers reported on Monday that Labor’s “plan to cut carbon emissions by 40 to 60 per cent by 2030” would result in the closure of up to 37 power stations, cause thousands of job losses and cost the economy about $600 billion in growth.
That is on top of a claimed cost of Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy production target by 2030, which the government says would cost between $60 and $85 billion, most of which would be met by consumers through higher electricity prices.
The threat of soaring household electricity prices caused by Labor’s fixed carbon price – or tax – proved a key difference in the 2010 to 2013 period, helping the Abbott opposition to destroy the standing of the Gillard-Rudd Labor government.
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