The energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has slapped down Tony Abbott and other conservative rebels, declaring that climate change is real and that waswhy Abbott agreed to join the Paris international climate agreement when he was prime minister.
Asked about Abbott’s provocative speech to a group of climate-change sceptics in London questioning the science of climate change – an outing that has been characterised by Labor as “loopy” – Frydenberg brought up Abbott’s own record in the top job.
“Climate change is real,” the energy minister told reporters. “We take our advice from the scientific experts. We believe we need to reduce our emissions. That is why Tony Abbott signed up to the Paris agreement.”
With the government backing off the clean energy target recommended by the chief scientist, which was opposed vociferously by Abbott and other government conservatives, voices are now marshalling against Australia’s participation in the Paris agreement.
Declaring himself an “agnostic” about the science of climate change, the Tasmanian Liberal senator said Abbott had made some “very valid points” in the speech to a group of climate-change sceptics.
While noting the Paris climate agreement “was at all times aspirational and unenforceable”, Abetz queried why Australia had signed up.
“Why we are supporting Paris in circumstances where the total Australian emissions are being, er, er, emitted in China and India by increasing their emissions each year?” Abetz told Sky News. “One really has to ask what is the benefit of exporting our coal to China and India so they can burn it and we can somehow claim environmental purity when it is costing us jobs and costing us wealth with no environmental dividend.”
Frydenberg flatly dismissed those arguments.
“I point out that, at the time, Tony Abbott said that the agreement Australia struck at Paris was a definite commitment and that it was economically responsible and environmentally responsible. They were Tony Abbott’s words,” the energy minister said.
“Now the Turnbull government is continuing the work of Coalition governments to reduce carbon emissions, but to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise the affordability and the reliability of our system.”
Frydenberg said Australia’s commitment to the Paris treaty was rock solid.
“We have firm commitments we agreed to at Paris,” he said. “The government will meet and Australia will meet those commitments, just as we beat our first Kyoto target, just as we’re on track to beat our 2020 target.
“We are doing it through a whole range of different mechanisms across the economy. We take climate change very seriously. We take our emissions reductions targets very seriously. That’s what the government has acted.”
Industry is deeply alarmed that the government has backed off the clean energy target recommended by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, because a number of groups saw that policy as a valid pathway to achieve bipartisan agreement on climate and energy policy.
Industry groups are concerned the government’s energy policy is off the rails. The Business Council of Australia is demanding a seat at the table if the government intends to propose an alternative mechanism to the clean energy target to drive the transformation to low-emissions technology.
The government could unveil its energy policy as soon as next week, when parliament resumes for the final spring session.
Abetz on Wednesday declared Australia was exporting jobs and wealth in the “manic determination to go down the renewable energy path”.
He said the government’s new energy policy needed to encourage the construction of new high-efficiency low-emissions coal power plants and, “further forward”, nuclear energy, to provide reliable base-load energy.
The senator said low-cost energy had made Australia a first-world economy and Australia needed to retain that comparative advantage.
Abetz also backed Abbott’s contention that when the world’s climate has been warmer, people fared better. He said the simple reality “in general terms” was when the world’s climate had been a little bit warmer, humanity had done better.
Abetz said he would prefer neither a heatwave nor a cold snap, but he said people died more often in cold snaps than during heatwaves.