Labor backing fossil fuel projects could scupper Greens support for 43% target

by Sarah Martin
Adam Bandt vows to push Albanese government ‘further and faster’ on emissions reduction

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, says the party’s support for the government’s climate legislation may hinge on whether it continues to back new fossil fuel projects, vowing to push Labor to go “further and faster” on its emission reduction goals.

Hitting back at the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, after he suggested the government would not negotiate with the Greens to pass the legislation through the Senate, Bandt accused Labor of being the “only obstacle” to greater climate ambition in the new parliament.

“The new government should do more than be slightly better than Scott Morrison and slightly better than business as usual,” Bandt told Guardian Australia.

“We need to start taking action in line with the science and it’s critical to understand that Labor’s target is not science driven, it’s based on a level of global heating of 2C and above and that’s not consistent with the Paris agreement’s temperature goals.

“It will mean the death of the Great Barrier Reef, crop failures in Australia, worse floods and droughts and so we need to take action that the science is calling for.”

Bandt said a “big issue” for the Greens when weighing up whether to support the legislation was the government’s support for new gas and coal projects, questioning whether emissions from the Beetaloo Basin or Scarborough projects had been factored in to Labor’s projections.

Fracking the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory could potentially drive up Australia’s emissions by 13%, while the Scarborough project could result in more than 1.6bn tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions across its lifetime.

“Labor’s willingness to back Scarborough, to back Beetaloo and a host of others is of grave concern to the climate, and we are concerned that Labor’s target and modelling of even its weak 43% target don’t take into account these new projects,” Bandt said.

“These are big issues that we want to have further discussions with the government about [and] we will put them on the table in negotiations because the two things are linked – opening up new coal and gas projects will blow Australia’s carbon budget.

“We don’t want to negotiate legislation in parliament on a Monday, only to find on Tuesday that Labor is opening up the Beetaloo or Scarborough gas basins and totally undoing all the good work that parliament has done.”

The climate and energy minister, Chris Bowen, has said the government will introduce legislation for its new emissions reduction target along with a new monitoring and reporting regime when parliament sits for the first time later this month.

Bandt criticised the government’s “take it or leave it” approach, saying the party was prepared to negotiate on the bill “with strong principles but open minds”.

“Together we can get something done but neither of us has a majority so that means there would need to be a bit a give on both sides,” he said.

“We are not walking into this with an ultimatum approach. The only obstacle to greater climate ambition is Labor – they are the only ones who won’t talk.”

Bandt said the party had received initial briefings from the government in which its reluctance to negotiate had been made clear, and urged a rethink from Labor, particularly as Albanese heard directly the concerns of Pacific island nations on climate change.

“You have the Tuvalu foreign minister saying Labor’s targets are not enough to meet the concerns of the Pacific Islanders and they want an end to new coal and gas projects,” he said.

“The push for Labor to stop opening coal and gas projects and do more on climate isn’t just coming from the Greens, it’s coming from allies, and will increasingly come from the whole world, so this isn’t an issue that will go away.

“Part of our job in parliament is to push Labor to do what science demands because being slightly less crap than Scott Morrison is not what the climate requires.”

Bandt said that while Albanese was right to claim a mandate in the House of Representatives, the prime minister needed to recognise the shift in the Senate where the Greens will hold the balance of power.

Ahead of his trip to Fiji on Tuesday, Albanese said the government would stick to its election commitment of legislating a medium term emissions target of 43% – a level that experts say will fall short of Australia’s commitment under the Paris agreement to keep warming preferably below 1.5C .

“If the Greens party haven’t learned from what they did in 2009, that was something that led to a decade of inaction and delay and denial, then that will be a matter for them,” Albanese said.

“We’ll put forward the legislation before the parliament. Every member of the House and every member of the Senate should vote for it. If they don’t, they’ll be held accountable for it.”

Bandt labelled Albanese’s reference to the party’s decision to vote against Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme in 2009 as “gratuitous”.

“It’s a rewriting of history and it was followed up by the government itself saying it will adopt a take it or leave it approach,” he said.

“That has just been rejected by the people and I would urge the government to rethink that kind of ultimatum politics, especially on something as critical as climate.”