Environment Minister Greg Hunt believes Australia does not have to give up its coal habit completely, despite grim warnings from United Nations climate experts about the need to move away from the fossil fuel.
In one of the biggest reports of its kind, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says emissions of three key greenhouse gases are at a more than 800,000-year high.
It says Earth is now on a trajectory for at least 4C warming by 2100 over pre-industrial times – a recipe for worsening drought, flood, rising seas and species extinctions.
The report says switching to cleaner sources, increasing energy efficiency and carrying out other emission-mitigating measures would be far cheaper than the cost of climate damage.
Upon the release of the report UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said “clear, decisive” action must be taken to address climate change.
But Greg Hunt appears to disagree. He said the federal government’s direct action plan will help clean up coal energy use.
“The work the CSIRO is doing is looking at a 30 to potentially 50 per cent reduction in the footprint of coal fire power stations,” he told ABC Radio.
The government’s scheme, which parliament passed on Friday with the support of the Palmer United Party and crossbench senators, provides financial incentives for big polluters to volunteer to reduce emissions.
The first projects to win money from the $2.55 billion funding pool through a reverse auction will be known in the first quarter of 2015.
The Climate Council seized on the report’s findings that burning fossil fuels is not compatible with tackling climate change.
“It would be ill-advised to prioritise one industry at the expense of our collective health, economy and way of life,” chief executive Amanda McKenzie said on Monday.
Australian Greens leader Christine Milne says fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground or there will be no chance of preventing catastrophic warming.
“The game is up – Prime Minister Abbott can no longer engage in high-risk denying behaviour, plead ignorance or continue to shirk this,” she said.