Embattled Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has abandoned plans to set a new emissions reduction target, following a revolt by MPs in his own government amid a potential leadership challenge.
Mr Turnbull’s signature energy policy – the National Energy Guarantee – contained a pledge to cut Australia’s emissions by 26 per cent, based on 2005 levels, by 2030. The laws would have helped the country meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement.
But after rebel Liberal Party MPs led by former prime minister Tony Abbott threatened to vote against the legislation – which would have triggered a crisis of confidence in Mr Turnbull – the PM decided to back down.
It was Mr Abbott himself who signed Australia up to the Paris climate agreement, and it was he who at the time announced the emissions reductions target of 26 per cent from 2005 levels.
In 2014 he even said Australia could reduce emissions by up to 28 per cent, saying: “There’s a definite commitment to 26 per cent but we believe under the policies that we’ve got, with the circumstances that we think will apply, that we can go up to 28 per cent.”
Despite the boast, he was later reported to have told colleagues he was “misled” while in Paris, and recently argued that using energy policy as a means of reducing emissions is “madness”.
“In politics you have to focus on what you can deliver,” Mr Turnbull said on Monday, adding the legislation would not pass parliament if it contained an emissions target.
“Cheaper power has always been our number one priority when it comes to energy policy,” he told reporters.
Mr Abbott has reportedly thrown his support behind Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, for a possible leadership challenge, though Mr Turnbull said he had the support of his party colleagues including Mr Dutton.
Efforts to introduce climate change combatting emissions targets have repeatedly frustrated Australian politicians.
In 2007 Kevin Rudd famously declared climate change “the great moral issue of our generation”, but was unable to push through the changes he wanted while PM, eventually dropping them. His Labour party successor, Julia Gillard, faced an aggressive campaign led by Mr Abbott against her plans to reduce pollution, in which she was called a liar and was personally derided by conservative campaigners.
The current debate over the impact of energy policy on climate change has seen even greater polarisation.
Mr Turnbull’s failure to win support for the emissions target, comes despite a recent history of worsening wildfires and searing temperatures. The bushfire season has typically begun during the country’s summer months, but Australia’s increasingly hotter, drier weather has seen the season brought two months earlier – well into winter.
Meanwhile, in January this year, Penrith, 30 miles west of Sydney, was the hottest place on earth, hitting 47.3C, while Sydney was 44C.
Climate scientists predict the number of days Australia sees temperatures rise above 35C to double from five to ten in the next 12 years, while studies have forecast heatwaves with highs of 50C could hit Australian cities by 2040.
Mr Turnbull’s government claimed it should still hit the minimum emissions targets obligated by the Paris accord, despite the policy U-turn.
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