October 8, 2018 - The Australian government has rejected the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s call to phase out coal power by 2050, claiming renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power.
The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said Australia should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal reserves, despite the IPCC’s dire warnings the world has just 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe.
He said the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, also did not commit to the total phase-out of coal, but called for more renewable energy.
Since the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull abandoned the emissions reduction component of the Coalition’s national energy guarantee, Australia has been left without a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020, when the renewable energy target will expire.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has claimed Australia will meet its Paris climate agreement targets of reducing emissions by 26% to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030 “in a canter”. The claim is contradicted by environment department figures showing emissions are rising and advice from the Energy Security Board that Australia will fall short under a business-as-usual scenario.
The IPCC report held particularly sobering news for Australia, that holding warming to 1.5C rather than 2C would probably be the difference between the survival of some Great Barrier Reef coral and its complete decline.
On Monday McCormack told Sky News coalmining was “very, very important” because it provided 60% of Australia’s electricity, 50,000 jobs and was Australia’s largest export.
McCormack said he “understands the concerns” expressed in the IPCC report, but admitted he hadn’t read it yet. “I’ll certainly consider what it has to say. But the fact is, coalmining … and coal-fired power stations do play an important part of our energy mix in Australia and will do so going forward.”
The deputy prime minister said that he hadn’t “seen anything that’s going to replace coal in the near future”, predicting it would be an important part of the energy mix “for more than just 10 years”.
“The Liberals and Nationals in government are supportive of small business, of industry, of farms, and of coalmining.”
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg – who as energy and environment minister championed a policy to reduce emissions by 26% in the electricity sector – warned that without coal “the lights will go out on the east coast of Australia”.
The environment minister, Melissa Price, said the IPCC report was designed to inform policymakers but was not “policy prescriptive”.
On Tuesday Price told ABC AM she had not read the whole report, and said Australia’s policies were “adequate” to meet its 2020 Kyoto target.
Asked to explain how Australia will reach the 2030 target, Price cited the emissions reduction fund – which only has $250m left of $2.5bn – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the government’s investment in Snowy 2.0 hydro-electric.
Price conceded there had been “a slight increase” in Australia’s emissions but blamed an increase in liquid natural gas production. She dismissed scientists who say Australia will miss its targets as “their opinion” but said she was “very comfortable” with Australia’s trajectory.
Price said it would be “irresponsible” to commit to phase out coal by 2050 because clean coal technology could be available by then.
At a doorstop on the Gold Coast on Monday, Morrison said the IPCC report “does not provide recommendations to Australia or Australia’s program, this is dealing with the global program”.
“Let’s not forget that Australia accounts for just over 1% of global emissions, so there are a lot bigger players than us out there impacting on these arrangements.”
Morrison said Australia’s emissions per capita were “at their lowest level in decades” and the government’s focus was “to ensure that electricity prices are lower”.
Earlier on Monday Morrison ruled out exiting the Paris climate agreement but vowed not to provide more money to the global climate fund.
Advice from the Energy Security Board suggests the dumped national energy guarantee would have reduced household power bills by $150 a year.
Labor is yet to decide whether it will persist with the Neg for the electricity sector with an emissions reduction target of 45%, or whether it will take a different policy to the next federal election.
On Monday Shorten said the government’s priorities were “all wrong” because “they’re not taking action on renewables”.
“What we need to do is move our energy mix to having a greater proportion of renewables. But we are not saying that there won’t be fossil fuel as part of our energy mix going forward.”