'Cli­mate change is real': en­ergy min­is­ter hits out at Tony Ab­bott

The Guardian Australia - - News - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal editor

The en­ergy min­is­ter, Josh Fry­den­berg, has slapped down Tony Ab­bott and other con­ser­va­tive rebels, declar­ing that cli­mate change is real and that was why 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.

Con­ser­va­tive Eric Abetz on Wednesday backed Ab­bott’s speech in Lon­don ques­tion­ing cli­mate change and de­clared Aus­tralian pen- sion­ers need to be put be­fore “some Paris as­pi­ra­tional cli­mate deal”.

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 baseload 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.

Pho­to­graph: Dean Lewins/AAP

En­ergy min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg says the gov­ern­ment has ‘firm com­mit­ments’ agreed to at Paris by for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott.

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