Home » Australia’s power and gas companies want Coalition to retain Labor’s 2030 climate target

Australia’s power and gas companies want Coalition to retain Labor’s 2030 climate target

The owners of Australian coal and gas-fired power plants have joined the country’s leading business groups in saying the Coalition should keep Labor’s 2030 climate target if it wins the next election.

The Australian Energy Council, which represents electricity companies and gas wholesalers and retailers, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group said maintaining an interim target – legislated as a 43% cut compared with 2005 levels – was an important step in getting to net zero emissions by mid-century.

Some of the business groups said the 43% target would be difficult, but the government should aim to meet it. None said they agreed with the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, that it was “unachievable”.

Dutton on Tuesday repeated that he would not back the legislated goal, and revealed the Coalition did not intend to propose an alternative 2030 emissions reduction target before the next election, which is due by May 2025.

He said Labor’s target would “harm Australian families”, and that a decision on interim targets would be made “when we are in government”. But he said the Coalition was still committed to net zero emissions and the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Several climate experts said his refusal to back the country’s 2030 target meant a Dutton government would be in breach of the Paris deal, which commits countries to progressively increase commitments every five years and to make pledges that reflect their “highest possible ambition”.

The agreement’s headline goal is to limit global heating to well below 2C and to pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5C above preindustrial levels. Scientists say this requires rapid emissions cuts before 2030 on the way to net zero.

The energy council told the Guardian it continued to support the country’s economy-wide interim emissions reduction target for 2030, describing it as an “important stepping stone towards achieving net zero”. Its interim chief executive, Ben Barnes, said interim targets gave certainty to industry and the broader economy on the “investment pathway” to net zero.

He said the 43% target would be challenging to meet but said “that is not a reason to stop trying”.

“The energy sector will do most of the heavy lifting to reduce emissions between now and 2030, which will enable other sectors to achieve their decarbonisation objectives,” Barnes said. “It’s critical that we continue to work towards reducing our emissions as quickly as is possible and affordable.”

The chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Bran Black, said his organisation was committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and interim targets were a critical part of that. “Already announced and legislated targets should remain in place,” he said.

The head of the employer association the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, said his organisation supported Australia’s interim emissions target as “a guide path and glide path” to meeting the Paris goals. But he said targets needed to be credible to support investment, and Australia’s 43% goal was “in the balance”.

“We are tracking in broadly the right direction and we have the tools to get it done, but it’s looking more unlikely that Australia will build the new assets we need fast enough to meet the full 43% by 2030,” Willox said. “More than ever, industry needs affordable, reliable and clean power and an investable policy environment.”

On the Coalition’s proposed support for an Australian nuclear industry after 2040, Willox said it would be “shortsighted to rule out any technology”, but he said the country’s response now should be building “a lot of renewables, energy storage and smart demand-side resources, transmission to connect it all up, and flexible gas peakers to provide essential backup”.

Government department projections made last year suggested Australia was on track for a 42% reduction in emissions by 2030. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Tuesday this showed the government was “very much on track” to meet the 43% target, but some analysts have warned the slow rollout of large-scale renewable energy and transmission lines put the goal at risk.

Data released last month showed national emissions were 29% below 2005 levels at the end of last year, although most of this was due to CO2 being absorbed by trees and the landscape for reasons unrelated to climate policy. Emissions from fossil fuels and the broader economy fell less than 3%.

Bill Hare, chief executive of the science and policy institute Climate Analytics, said the Coalition’s rejection of the 43% target was a “clear abandonment of any serious and believable commitment to net zero by 2050 and to the Paris agreement’s 1.5C limit”.

He said the national target for 2030 should be more than 60% to align with the global 1.5C goal.

“There are no credible technically and economically feasible pathways to net zero without substantial reductions by 2030 and 2035,” Hare said. “A net zero commitment without policies and targets to match for 2030 lacks any credibility and is essentially an attempt to con the public.”

Dutton’s stance was sharply criticised by Labor and crossbench MPs. Albanese called the opposition leader’s stance absurd and accused him of risking billions of dollars of investment in clean energy. “Peter Dutton is divisive, the Coalition are divided and there is no detail about what they would pursue,” he said.

Adam Bandt, the Greens leader, attacked both major parties. He said the Liberals were “completely ignoring the Paris agreement” and Albanese was “crying Paris crocodile tears” while supporting new fossil fuel developments.