Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has stared down the Greens in negotiations over the federal government’s signature climate policy, warning Australia’s carbon footprint will blow out by 20 per cent if the minor party blocks his bill in parliament.
As the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautioned the world had one final chance to ramp up climate action or reap profound damage to the Earth, Bowen said the so-called safeguard mechanism was the only option available to quickly rein in greenhouse emissions.
“The parliament can seize this opportunity or squander this opportunity,” he told parliament, arguing forecast emissions reductions would be significantly lower if his reform was blocked.
“Our projections tell us unless the parliament passes the safeguard reforms, our projections will be 35 per cent, not 43 per cent.
“This [UN] report makes it clear we have agency and urgency. Agency because it is not too late to hold the world as close as possible to 1.5 degrees, but urgency because we must move now.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt earlier repeated his demand, which Bowen has rejected, that the government veto any new coal or gas projects in return for his party’s crucial support in the Senate for changes to the safeguard mechanism.
The Australian Conservation Foundation also weighed into the debate, urging the Greens to use their balance of power to back the reform, even without a guarantee that new fossil fuel projects will be blocked.
The safeguard mechanism is designed to impose, for the first time, binding caps on Australia’s 215 biggest polluters – including mines, factories, smelters and processors – to force them to reduce their carbon footprint by a cumulative 205 million tonnes by the end of the decade.
This would deliver one-third of the cuts needed to achieve Australia’s legally binding climate target to reduce emissions by 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
However, Bandt said Australia must do more to act consistently with international action needed to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5 degrees. The government’s refusal to rule out approving new fossil fuel projects could add to the climate crisis, he said.
Scientists have calculated that the government’s climate target is consistent with action that would generate about 2 degrees of warming.
“The United Nations Secretary-General has called out countries like Australia, warning that we must stop opening new coal and gas projects,” Bandt said.
“If we want to ensure that future generations have a safer planet, we must stop opening new coal and gas. We must listen to the scientists and future generations begging us to change course.”
The federal opposition has already committed to vote against the safeguard reform. Some in the government are urging Bowen not to concede to the Greens, arguing the minor party should be forced to side with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to block what they say is a major boost to climate action.
The safeguard mechanism will require industrial emitters that generate more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year to reduce their carbon footprint by about 5 per cent a year until the end of the decade.
The scheme sets a goal to limit the total emissions of all big polluters, including any new mines, gas fields or factories, at 1233 million tonnes by 2030.
One option being explored in negotiations between the Greens and the government is to make the total emissions cap legally binding, to set an enforceable limit that could curb the ability for new coal or gas development to be approved.
Resources Minister Madeleine King told a gas industry conference on Tuesday that gas would be critical to Australia reaching its climate target, as well as to its trading partners.
“No gas means no processing of critical minerals and therefore no batteries for the storage of renewable energy, and that makes our pathway to net zero emissions all the more difficult,” she said.
“At the same time, we need to meet our gas export commitments.”
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