Emissions target on chopping board as climate wars rage

Dominic Giannini and Kat Wong |

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s new attack on climate targets has delivered a win for Climate 200.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s new attack on climate targets has delivered a win for Climate 200.

Battle lines are being redrawn in Australia’s climate wars with voters mobilising in response to the federal opposition’s threat to abandon emissions reduction targets.

Climate 200, which successfully backed several independents at the 2022 federal election, has enjoyed a surge in donations after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he planned to scrap the government’s 2030 target to reduce emissions by 43 per cent.

Small individual donations worth nearly $950,000 have come in over the past six weeks, the lobby group’s billionaire founder Simon Holmes a Court said, and now Mr Dutton’s attack has made his job even easier.

Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes a Court
Simon Holmes a Court says Peter Dutton’s climate stance has given his organisation new impetus. (Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS)

“People are frustrated, but I tell you what, they’re white hot after Mr Dutton’s reversal on climate,” Mr Holmes a Court told ABC radio on Thursday.

Climate 200 is set to back 30 independents at the upcoming federal election and is considering supporting one in Mr Dutton’s marginal greater Brisbane-based seat of Dickson.

Mr Dutton rekindled the embers of Australia’s climate wars when he attacked the government’s renewable energy plan and claimed it would drive up power prices in the interim.

He has insisted the opposition remains committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Once we bring in nuclear, which is a zero emissions technology, we can achieve, and we must achieve the net zero by 2050,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“I’m not going to sign up to the policy that the prime minister is proposing.”

But when Nationals MP Keith Pitt was asked whether the coalition should pull out of the 2050 target or leave the United Nations Paris climate agreement, he said they should “consider all options”.

“I just think the priority has to be the Australian nation and not the United Nations,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Pitt said reducing Australian emissions was like “throwing a marble at a mountain” as China was a much bigger polluter.

“You need to look at what the process is, how much it costs, who’s paying, how you intend to do it and the damage it might cause to the economy.” he said.

Teal independent MPs
Teal independents unseated inner-city Liberal moderates at the last election. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The opposition leader is pinning his hopes on a plan to build about six nuclear reactors across Australia, but he is yet to unveil any details after promising full costings months ago.

Mr Dutton’s plan to abandon the 2030 emissions reduction target – while promising to announce a new target if he becomes prime minister – could alienate voters because climate change has consistently been one of the top three issues in recent elections, Australian National University academic Andrew Hughes said. 

That is especially true in the inner-city seats needed by the Liberals, the political marketing and advertising expert said.

“I don’t think he will get into office because he needs to win the moderate seats back somewhere,” Dr Hughes told AAP.

Teal independents who unseated Liberal moderates in inner Sydney and Melbourne seats at the last election already see an opportunity in Mr Dutton’s rhetoric on climate change.

Even if the coalition won seats, it would still likely need independents to form a minority government, Dr Hughes said.

“Where do they get the numbers from? I can’t really see them getting enough independents across the line to form government,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton now says he won’t reveal the coalition’s 2030 target unless it wins government. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday accused Mr Dutton of “walking away from any climate action” and has insisted that his party will meet climate targets.

“This requires a whole of government approach, but a whole of society approach as well,” he told the Guardian podcast.

“And Peter Dutton’s plan is to rip all of that up.”