Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has ruled out banning new coal and gas projects as part of negotiations with the Greens over the government’s proposed emissions reduction and environmental protection overhauls.
Speaking to ABC’s program on Sunday morning, Bowen also defended the use of carbon offsets for polluters to abide by an emissions limit under the safeguard mechanism, saying without “flexibility” industries like cement producers would have to lay off workers or reduce production.
The government and the Greens have been involved in a standoff over upcoming bills, with Greens leader Adam Bandt saying the government should ban new coal and gas projects in return for the party’s support of the safeguard mechanism.
The safeguard mechanism applies to the country’s biggest polluters and would mandate the reduction of emissions by 4.9 per cent each year.
Bowen again refused to yield to the Greens’ demand, saying while Labor wasn’t proposing new coal projects, it wouldn’t ban them either, it wanted all big emitters to be subject to the same pollution reduction regime.
“Any new development has emissions implications, whether it’s industrial or resources … that’s why I’m so determined to get a framework in place to see those emissions come down,” he said.
“If the safeguard reforms don’t pass, then there’s no constraint on carbon in our biggest emitters, emissions will continue to go up just as they have since the safeguards reforms were brought down in 2016.”
Asked whether there would be any ban or timeframe to ban new coal and gas projects, Bowen responded: “No, that’s not part of our agenda, and it won’t be part of those negotiations.”
Bowen challenged the Greens to become a party of “progress” instead of protest, however, Bandt told media later on Sunday the only obstacle to the passage of the safeguard mechanism legislation was Labor itself.
“Labor still hadn’t come up with any convincing explanation of why they want to open coal and gas mines in the middle of a climate crisis and increase emissions,” Bandt said, targeting Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s approval of 116 coal seam gas wells in Queensland.
“All we’re asking is the bare minimum, not the perfect … stop making the climate crisis worse while we’re trying to fix it.”
Grattan Institute energy and climate deputy program director Alison Reeve said the government’s climate change legislation created an emissions “budget” for the nation to abide by within a limited timeframe, meaning any new coal or gas projects would have to fit within that.
“If you want to build a new coal mine, somewhere else in the economy – farmers or small businesses – have to reduce their emissions faster to stay within the budget,” Reeve said.
She said the international gas shortage was instigating a mass switch away from the fuel, but Australia’s energy regulator was still forecasting a gas shortage in Australia, and it would be difficult for that switch to occur fast enough to prevent that.
However, she said the government must stop fence-sitting over climate action. “You hear rhetoric from one side of the government around ‘coal and gas are important, they’re big economic contributors’ and on the other side you hear the rhetoric around ‘we want to be a big renewable energy superpower’,” Reeve said.
She said the government could block access to subsidies for coal and gas industries, adding there was no point subsidising industries in decline.
The Greens are also calling for a “climate trigger” that would require consideration of long-term climate impacts before certain projects were approved. Bowen hinted that aspect could be addressed through Plibersek’s reforming of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
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