Australia weakens commitment to climate
accord after government fractures
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[August 20, 2018]
By Colin Packham and Erin Cooper
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime
Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday stripped requirements for reducing
greenhouse emissions from his centerpiece energy policy in the face of
political opposition, although the country remains a signatory to the
While stopping short of following the lead of U.S. President Donald
Trump and withdrawing from the global climate accord, Australia removed
requirements from its National Energy Guarantee plan that would have
mandated that greenhouse emissions from its power industry decrease by
26 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
As Australia's east coast suffers through its worst drought in 60 years,
Turnbull said he would seek to legislate emission reductions in the
He added that his government would move legislation to reduce emissions
when it had sufficient support from its own party. Despite the impasse,
Turnbull said the government was committed to its Paris accord
"The legislation to move forward with the emissions component of the
National Energy Guarantee will not be able to pass the House of
Representatives," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
Turnbull has a parliamentary majority of just one. With several
rank-and-file lawmakers vowing they would not support any legislated
emission reductions, such mandates are likely to remain elusive until at
least a year.
The decision drew immediate scorn from critics who dismissed suggestions
that a reduction could be achieved without mandated legislation.
"The announcement is a setback for global action to reduce carbon
emissions," said Will Steffen, a climate scientist at the Australian
"Australia is a global lagger in meeting its emission targets," he
added. "Independent research shows emissions are creeping up over the
last three years; I'm very skeptical that without immediate action,
Australia can meet it commitments."
Australia - one of the largest carbon emitters per capita because of its
reliance on coal-fired power plants - is among nearly 200 countries
committed to the Paris Agreement.
The United States in 2017 became the only signatory to withdraw from the
Australia's National Energy Guarantee was supposed to end a decade of
infighting about how Australia could boost power reliability while
reducing carbon emissions.
But by requiring Australia's electricity sector to reduce emissions by
26 percent, old wounds were reopened which split the government along
Conservatives, led by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who committed
Australia to the Paris accord when he led the country, argue reducing
emissions puts Australia at an economic disadvantage after the United
States withdrew from the Paris accord in 2017.
The message resonates with rural voters, a key electorate for Turnbull,
a social liberal who throughout his political career has voiced support
for addressing climate change.
[to top of second column]
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at a news
conference after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens
Stoltenberg at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium
April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts/File Photo
"It's a complete capitulation to the right-wing members of the
Liberal Party of Australia, who want to perpetuate Australia's coal
economy," said Robyn Eckersley, Professor and Head of Political
Science at University of Melbourne.
Turnbull's move may relieve immediate pressure, though internal
peace is seen as fragile as the government's re-election prospects
look dim. The change also drew criticism from Australia's energy
"The stakes are too high for partisan and personal politics to spoil
this opportunity to move energy policy into the 21st century," said
Andrew Richards, chief executive officer at the Energy Users
Association of Australia.
With Turnbull struggling to unite the party, local media reported
Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton was considering a leadership
challenge. Australia has seen five different leaders since 2009.
Turnbull, however, moved to quell the reports.
"Peter Dutton was at our leadership group meeting this morning and
he was at the Cabinet last night. He's a member of our team. He's
given me his absolute support," Turnbull said.
A widely watched poll on Monday shows support for Turnbull has
crashed to its lowest level since December.
The Ipsos poll published in Fairfax newspapers shows that although
Turnbull is still personally more popular than opposition Labor
leader, Bill Shorten, support for his Liberal-National coalition
fell four points to 45 percent, 10 points behind Labor and enough
for a crushing electoral defeat.
Michiel Schaeffer, Science Director at Climate Analytics, a
Berlin-based research group, predicted that Australia would
eventually toughen climate action.
"Against a backdrop of record drought in New South Wales and a very
early bushfire season starting, fossil-fuel interests in Australia
have again won out over the government moving forward on climate
change,” he told Reuters in an email.
“Yet despite all this, renewable energy continues to march
inexorably forward, especially at state level," he added.
"Ultimately, climate action will be inevitable in Australia."
(Reporting by Colin Packham and Erin Cooper in Sydney; Additional
reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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