Abbott says Australia’s climate target is ‘economically responsible’

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announce new climate targets. Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia will take a target of reducing emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030 to the Paris climate conference, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott leaving the way open to attend the meeting if a significant number of world leaders are there.

Abbott said the 26% reduction was “a definite commitment” but the government believed that under its policies and the expected circumstances it could reach 28%. He insisted the target range was “in the middle of comparable economies”.

“It is not quite as high as the Europeans at 34% on 2005. It is better than the Japanese at 25%. It is vastly better than the Koreans at 4%. It’s immeasurably better than the Chinese, who will actually increase their emissions by 150% between now and 2030.”

Abbott said it was a “good, solid economically responsible, environmentally responsible target”.

Under the plan, emissions per person would halve over the next 15 years.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia, responsible for 1.3% of the world’s emissions and the 13th largest emitter in absolute terms, “is doing our bit”.

Abbott said modelling showed the economic cost of a 26% reduction would be between 0.2% and 0.3% of GDP in the year 2030 – between A$3 billion and A$4 billion in current terms. If the reduction had been set at 40%, the cost would be more than 2% of GDP – about $40 billion. The costs imposed by the government’s target were “manageable” – in contrast, Labor would hit the economy with “massive and unmanageable costs”, he said.

During a long discussion in the Coalition partyroom, where MPs were briefed on the targets, climate sceptics they could live with the policy. One said he understood the political imperative of going down this road, even though it would not make a tittle of difference. According to a party spokesman, the reaction at the meeting was overwhelmingly positive.

Abbott said Bishop would lead Australia’s delegation to Paris, on the assumption that it was a foreign ministers’ meeting. But if it were to become a leaders’ meeting he would “gladly” go. “If there were a substantial number of major economy leaders there, obviously I’d go. It would be foolish not to go if there was an opportunity to meet on a whole range of subjects with the leaders of other economically significant countries.”

The reaction to the targets was predictably mixed.

Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler said the 26% target put Australia “well at the back of the pack”.

The Climate Institute said it was bad for the climate and bad for Australia’s international competitiveness. Australia would still be the highest per capita polluter among developed countries in 2030.

But Australian Academy of Science president Andrew Holmes said: “This new target is a step in the right direction. The science tells us that on a global scale we need to move towards zero carbon emissions by mid-century to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change. So while some will argue that the Australian target could have been more ambitious, it does start us on the path towards this longer term goal.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government’s position balanced “the need for action to contain emissions with the need to minimise damage to jobs and economic growth”.

The Minerals Council described the target as “credible and appropriate” but said the policy would “impose strains on the Australian economy, especially export and import-competing industries”.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said the government had set targets that were less than half what the government’s independent Climate Change Authority had recommended. The authority urged a 40-60% reduction on 2000 levels by 2030.This would be a 45-65% cut from 2005 levels.

In a question to Abbott in parliament, Bandt said: “Haven’t you chosen to appease the deniers instead of satisfying the science?”