US official warns against dropping 2030 climate targets after Dutton refuses to commit to 43% emissions cut

<span>Experts have warned that watering down Australia’s 2030 emissions target would breach the Paris climate agreement.</span><span>Photograph: VMJones/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Experts have warned that watering down Australia’s 2030 emissions target would breach the Paris climate agreement.Photograph: VMJones/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A senior US official has urged Australia and other countries not to back away from their 2030 climate commitments, insisting that “we all have a collective responsibility for the planet we live in”.

The message from Australia’s top security ally contrasts with rhetoric from the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, who claimed on Saturday the Labor government was “appeasing the international climate lobby” and “global climate activists”.

Dutton has refused to commit to honouring Australia’s pledge to cut emissions by 43% by the end of this decade if he wins the next federal election, despite warnings from experts that watering down the target would breach the Paris climate agreement.

A senior official from the US Department of State told Guardian Australia it was “absolutely important that we keep the 2030 targets viable” and said “far-sighted politicians” would be rewarded for “doing the right thing”.

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The official was careful to avoid intervening directly in an Australian domestic political debate, instead expressing the Biden administration’s view in global terms and setting out the economic and moral case against delaying climate action.

Still, the comments will carry weight in Canberra as they reflect a clear view from Australia’s top security ally about ensuring “momentum stays in the positive direction” in tackling the climate crisis.

The US state department official, who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely, said that “everyone on the planet, Americans, Australians, Chinese” must do everything they could to keep the Paris agreement’s temperature goals alive.

The agreement aims to limit global heating “to well below 2C” compared with preindustrial levels, while countries also promised to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C.

It was adopted by more than 190 countries, including Australia’s then Coalition government, in 2015. Dutton has claimed Australia’s already legislated 2030 target is “unachievable”, which the government disputes.

The US official called for “a global effort where the level of motivation needs to stay very high”, but also said the biggest economic benefits would flow to “those who are moving out quicker on the clean energy transition”.

“I think the deployment of clean technologies is actually unfolding faster than a lot of the cynics thought it might,” the official said. “The commercial viability really has improved dramatically in recent years.”

Australia’s 2030 target is a cut of 43% compared with 2005 emissions, on the way to achieving net zero by 2050, with both already submitted as a national pledge under the Paris agreement.

Related: Germany’s top climate envoy says ‘this is the critical decade’ after Dutton ditches 2030 target

The agreement requires that each commitment a country makes will improve on its previous promise and “reflect its highest possible ambition”.

Asked whether backsliding on the 2030 targets was allowed, the US official said: “Look, every country is going to make their own sovereign decisions, but we all have a collective responsibility for the planet we live in.”

The official conceded that in any country “domestic politics will veer one way and then another”, but “we just need to make sure that we’re all holding ourselves to the highest possible standards”.

“There are good commercial reasons for not wanting to backslide,” they said.

On Wednesday, when announcing his longer term nuclear power plan without costings, Dutton was asked whether he would be breaching the Paris obligations.

“Well, my concern is with residents here in Australia,” Dutton said. “We’ll meet our international obligations. We’re committed to Paris.”

He has previously defended his refusal to commit to 2030 targets: “Well, if you look at the United States, the United Kingdom, they’re not meeting their targets.”

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Pressed on whether the US would be able to meet its interim target, the state department official said the Biden administration was “100% committed to this” and had “put a huge amount of money where our mouth is” through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Many climate campaigners worry about whether the US will continue to show leadership on the issue, particularly with Paris agreement opponent Donald Trump running to replace Joe Biden.

The US has long had nuclear power in its energy mix, although it is rapidly ramping up wind and solar projects.

Australia and the US continue to collaborate on critical minerals, with the US official saying like-mined countries were looking to rein in their over-dependence on China for nickel, lithium, cobalt and copper.

“You just don’t want to go too many more years where we remain fundamentally dependent on a single source for this building block of basically the next generation of energy that we’re all going to be depending on,” the official said.