Australia does not need to quit the Paris climate agreement because our commitments are non-binding, and new coal plants can continue to be constructed, according to the resources minister, Matt Canavan.
Canavan told Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones on Friday he had never been to Paris, and was “happy to leave the Champs-Élysées for others”, but people needed to be clear the treaty Tony Abbott committed Australia to in 2015 “doesn’t actually bind us to anything in particular”.
Abbott said in 2015, when he announced Australia would be signing up, that the government was making a “definite commitment” to a 26% reduction in emissions by 2030 and “with the circumstances that we think will apply ... we can go up to 28%”.
But Canavan said on Friday the Paris commitment was a three-page document that allowed Australia flexibility to build new coal plants. The resources minister said rather than focusing on the situation in 2030, “what I want to focus on is solving the crisis we have in energy today”.
“We have to build power stations. There’s nothing in the [Paris] agreement that would stop us building power stations, including coal-fired power stations,” Canavan said.
“We need new ones”.
Canavan said Queensland was “propping up” New South Wales with the newest coal fleet in the country.
Jones prefaced his interview with Canavan with a long condemnation of the new foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the decision to sign on to a communique at the Pacific Islands Forum this week nominating climate change as the single greatest security threat to the Pacific.
The communique said all countries must meet their commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
Jones declared the prime minister, Scott Morrison, needed to “recall Marise Payne and replace her”. He said the Morrison government would have no hope of winning the next federal election if it wanted to “persist with the global warming rubbish and the Paris agreement”.
The 2GB host said Paris needed to be “ripped up”.
“Do you want to win an election or don’t you?” Jones said to Canavan on Friday morning.
Canavan dead-batted. “Of course I want to win the election, Alan. But, more importantly, what I want to do is have good policies for Australia and make our country strong”.
The Queensland Nationals have been campaigning for months for government backing for new coal plants.
In his first major speech in the energy portfolio, the new minister, Angus Taylor, signalled he wanted to encourage new investment extending the life of existing coal and gas plants, and upgrading ageing facilities.
Taylor said the government was intent on boosting supply, and that meant expanding existing plants, upgrading ageing “legacy” generators, as well as pursuing new “greenfield” projects.
Taylor is currently working up options for cabinet.
A recent forecast by the Australian Energy Market Operator predicted 30% of Australia’s coal generators will approach the end of their technical life over the next two decades, and it said it was important to avoid premature departures if the looming transition in the national energy market is to be orderly.
But it was also clear that the most economical replacement for the ageing coal fleet was not new coal, but “a portfolio of utility-scale renewable generation, storage, distributed energy resources, flexible thermal capacity, and transmission”.
Aemo concluded that mix of generation could produce 90 terawatt hours of energy per annum, “more than offsetting the energy lost from retiring coal-fired generation”.