Environment minister Greg Hunt has hinted that Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will make a significant announcement on the first day of the Paris climate talks later this month.
Turnbull has been confirmed as one of 80 world leaders that will attend the first day of the summit, in hope that they can break any lingering political barriers and, hopefully, announce new initiatives beyond the country-by country pledges known as INDCs.
Hunt, interviewed at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Shangai, said Turnbull will have some important things to say at the meeting.
“The Prime Minister will attend day one which is the leaders’ summit, and may have some very prospective and constructive things to propose on the day,” Hunt said.
Australia has been under pressure both domestically and on the international front to increase its emission reduction targets, which currently stand at 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels.
That is equivalent to 19 per cent below 2000 levels and is seen as the tail end of developed country initiatives, even though Hunt says this is “equal highest” among developed countries in emission reductions per capita.
Australia is being advised by it own Climate Change Authority to reach for targets between 40 and 60 per cent by 2030, and Pacific Island nations have called on Australia to show leadership, and take stronger action.
Although the current pledges are only seen strong enough to cap global warming at 2.7C, rather than the targeted 2.0C, more initiatives are expected. Overnight, France and China struck a deal that agrees on verification of targets, and mechanisms to raise ambition.
Turnbull, although seen as a climate change hawk in comparison to his predecessor Tony Abbott, has been hamstrung by promises he made to the party’s right wing not to change climate policies. However, there is a feeling that Turnbull will move as a Paris agreement takes shape.
One of those things might be a re-appraisal of the coal industry. Hunt was asked what measures, if any, Australia was adopting to remove coal-fired generation from the energy system, to allow room for more renewables – both large scale and rooftop solar.
Hunt said that coal-fired capacity had already reduced by around 17 per cent over the last five years, and it could extend to one third of installed coal fired generation by 2022 (when the likely closure of Liddell in NSW will add to already announced closures such as Wallerewang and Northern and Playford B, among others.
“So what we’ve seen is that as renewable energy increases there’s been a decrease in coal fired capacity through the market of about 17 per cent over the last five years,” he said.
“Our best estimates are that that’s likely to decrease by about a third from 2010 to 2022. So the very existence of the Renewable Energy Target is helping to bring that about.”
Hunt confirmed that he and foreign minister Julie Bishop will be in Paris. Hunt said he will lead the delegation in the first week of the talks, where much of the focus will be on the land sector, and Bishop will lead the second week.
“I will lead week one, which is a lot to do with the land sector, we’ll be taking forward a global rainforest recovery initiative.
“Julie Bishop, who is our Foreign Minister, will lead week two which is a lot to do with financing, which naturally falls within the Foreign Minister’s remit.”
Last week, it was reported that Australia had offered to co-chair the Green Climate Fund, a critical institution important to developing countries that Abbott had once dismissed – during the talks two years ago in Poland, when Australia sent no ministerial representative – as a Bob Brown bank, in reference to the former Greens leader.