Confused Coalition stance on 2030 emissions target risks ‘chasing away’ investment, Albanese says

<span>The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, says the Coalition will make decisions on a 2030 emissions targets if it forms government.</span><span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, says the Coalition will make decisions on a 2030 emissions targets if it forms government.Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has accused Peter Dutton of being “afraid of the future” and risking “chasing away” investment in clean energy in Australia, after the opposition leader confirmed the Coalition will not set a 2030 emissions reduction target unless it wins the next election.

Albanese called Dutton’s stance “absurd”, highlighting confused messages from the Coalition about its climate policy, and saying any backtrack on Australia’s emissions reductions commitments would be “walking away from the Paris agreement”.

After foreshadowing on Saturday that the Coalition could walk away from the Paris agreement and scrap Labor’s legislated target to cut emissions by 43% by 2030, Dutton said the Coalition remained committed to net zero by 2050, but would not reveal its interim targets in opposition.

Related: Peter Dutton’s plans will breach the Paris agreement on climate – that much is clear | Adam Morton

“We need to make sure that we don’t harm Australian families and businesses in the interim and that is what Labor is doing,” Dutton said on Tuesday.

“And in terms of the targets otherwise, we’ll make those decisions when we are in government.”

The Liberal leader told 2GB later on Tuesday: “It’s very hard in opposition – without all the modelling and the advice from government – to put an exact figure on the table.”

The Coalition has delayed releasing its own energy policy, despite raising nuclear as a solution. Albanese on Tuesday afternoon called the repeatedly delayed nuclear announcement a “fantasy”, claiming it would lead to higher energy prices and emissions.

“We know that the consequences of that for our relationships in our region and around the world with our closest allies will be ones that are regrettable, to say the least,” Albanese told a press conference in Canberra.

“Instead of chasing investment in new industries with new opportunities in new jobs, he is chasing them away. No action until 2040 means energy shortfalls. It is something that Australia should not pursue.”

Albanese claimed “there hasn’t been any proper process to determine the Coalition’s policy”, noting that Liberal senator Andrew Bragg had said moments after Dutton’s press conference that he believed the Coalition would set its own 2030 target before the election.

Dutton told the Weekend Australian he would oppose the legislated 2030 target – a 43% cut compared with 2005 levels – at the next election, declaring there was “no sense in ­signing up to targets you don’t have any prospect of achieving”.

Government department projections last year suggested Australia was on track for a 42% reduction in emissions by 2030. The government said it showed the 43% target was within reach. Albanese said on Tuesday they were “very much on track” to meet the target.

On Tuesday, Dutton doubled down, claiming Labor’s targets would “trash” the economy.

“I think it’s very clear that we have absolute commitment to Paris and our commitment for net zero by 2050,” he said.

“It’s important it doesn’t need to be linear, as we’ve pointed out, and we’re not going to send the economy into freefall and families bankrupt through an ideologically based approach, which is what Anthony Albanese is doing at the moment.”

Dutton later clarified on 2GB Albanese needed to be “realistic” about the cost of living.

“When the prime minister made the commitment of 43%, the economy wasn’t in a state that it is now ... It’s a very different environment,” he said.

Dutton also took aim at the teal independents who won inner-city blue-ribbon seats from the Liberals at the last election, accusing them of being out of touch.

“Do I think that they’re in touch with average families who are struggling to pay their power bills at the moment? No, I don’t. I think Monique Ryan is in a very rarefied air that’s quite distinct from the people of Kooyong.

“And I don’t think that she’s got, frankly, a handle on the reality of what families are going through at the moment and I put Anthony Albanese in the same category.”

The North Sydney independent MP, Kylea Tink, said Dutton risked “taking Australia backward”.

“We cannot fall for Peter Dutton’s fairytale thinking,” she said.

“The climate wars must be put to bed and if the Liberal and National parties do not wish to be part of that future, it is their own extinction they are guaranteeing.”

Dutton claimed on Tuesday that Labor’s energy policy was designed so Albanese “can rub shoulders with leaders in Paris”.

Related: ‘We may not have snow’: Australian ski season opens with a whimper

The Paris agreement is a global agreement under which more than 190 countries said they would aim to limit global heating to well below 2C and attempt to limit it to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

The deal says countries will progressively increase their commitments every five years and that pledges will reflect a nation’s “highest possible ambition”. Experts say this means countries committed not to backslide on targets.

Dutton had previously told the ABC’s Four Corners that the Coalition would take a more ambitious 2030 target to the next election than the Morrison government’s pledge of a 26-28% cut below 2005 levels. “There’s no doubt about that,” Dutton told the program in September 2022.

The Coalition signed Australia up to the Paris agreement in 2015, with the then environment minister, Greg Hunt, calling it a “profoundly important milestone” and a “turning point in the transition to a lower-emissions economy”.

Labor’s climate targets – 43% by 2030 and net zero by 2050 – were legislated in 2022 and submitted as a pledge to the UN.

Australia has committed under the Paris agreement to announce an emissions reduction target for 2035 by February.

An initial assessment by the Climate Change Authority, the government’s advisory body, found Australia could meet an “ambitious” target to cut greenhouse gases by at least 65% and up to 75% by then. The authority’s final advice is due later this year.

Government climate data released last month said national emissions were already 29% below 2005 levels, but almost all of this was due to estimates of how much CO2 is absorbed by trees and the landscape. Emissions from the rest of the economy – including electricity generation, industry, transport and agriculture – were down only 3% since 2005.