Australia Defends Natural Gas as Vote Looms on Key Climate Bill

(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s government is mounting a defense of natural gas even as it seeks to accelerate cuts in emissions in one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporters.

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Gas will be increasingly important as the coal-fired power plants that still provide most of the country’s electricity are shut, Energy Minister Chris Bowen said in a speech in Sydney late on Monday. The fuel will be necessary to complement a transition to the government’s target of 82% renewable generation by 2030, he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government came to power 10 months ago on a platform to end Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard and increase the ambition of one of the world’s biggest per-capita emitters. The defense of fossil fuels has caused a standoff with the Greens Party, which is opposed to any further fossil fuel development and whose support is needed to help legislate tougher targets for the nation’s biggest polluters, including its massive liquefied natural gas export projects.

“Some call for an immediate ban on future gas, or the canceling of long-term contracts with key trading partners,” Bowen said. “These options are both irresponsible and not countenanced by the government.”

The bill to amend the safeguard mechanism, a policy designed to control emissions from large polluters, is due to be presented to the Senate during the last two weeks of March, with negotiations between the government and minor party lawmakers still ongoing.

The opposition center-right coalition of the Liberals and Nationals in February said it would vote against the proposed legislation, leaving the future of the bill in the hands of the Greens Party, which has repeatedly highlighted its concern that the laws don’t go far enough.

Independent pro-climate action senator David Pocock has also flagged concerns that the unlimited use of carbon credits in the government’s legislation reduces pressure on companies to cut the actual emissions of their facilities.

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