Chris Bowen has completely ruled out banning new coal mines, saying fossil fuels will play a part of Australia’s overall climate transition.
The government’s proposed safeguards mechanism – which it says will be integral in reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 – needs the support of the Greens after the Coalition refused to back it.
In order to get the Greens on side, however, the government has been told to close the provision that allows new coal and gas mines to be opened.
Last week, Greens leader Adam Bandt watered down his request, saying that instead of an outright ban, the minor party would consider a pause on approvals.
The Climate Change and Energy Minister, in terse exchange with Insiders host David Speers on Sunday, said banning new coal and gas was “not on the agenda” – nor is a climate trigger.
In light of Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek giving Santos a green light to construct and operate an expansion of 116 gas wells at an existing facility in the Surat Basin until 2077, Mr Bowen also ruled out a climate trigger.
“We are taking our NEM to 82 per cent renewables by 2030 – a huge lift from where we are, roughly 30 per cent in 83 months. But it still means 18 per cent will come from non-renewables, inevitably,” he said.
“Now eventually we will build from the 82 per cent, but in the medium term, we will still have 18 per cent of the energy grid coming from non-renewables. Increasingly that will be gas, as coal-fired power stations leave the system.
“Our goal is to ensure we have the capacity to ensure lights stay on as we make the biggest economic transformation since the industrial revolution.”
Mr Bowen acknowledged all new developments have “emissions implications” but said the government was focusing on targeting the nation’s biggest polluters in order to drive down emissions.
Probed further as to why he couldn’t promise to ban new coal to the Greens, Mr Bowen reiterated his point.
When asked by Mr Speers: “so there won’t be any ban, or time frame as to when we can stop opening new coal and gas”, Mr Bowen replied: “that’s not part of the agenda, and won’t be part of the negotiations”.
“I understand the focus on gas and coal and oil in this discussion. That’s very important,” the Climate Change and Energy Minister said.
“So is, finally, finally, getting a regime in place which reduces emissions from all our big emitters.”
In terms of a “climate trigger” similar to what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese first introduced to parliament as a private members bill in 2005, Mr Bowen said “That‘s not what we’re proposing”.
He warned that should neither the Liberals nor the Greens support the safeguards mechanism, it would be disastrous for the environment and economy.
“Inevitably, any new development has emissions implications … that’s why I’m so determined to get a framework in place to see emissions come down,” he said.
“If safeguards reforms don’t pass there’s no constraint on parliament on biggest emitters, emission also continue to go up.”