Coalition tells Cop28 it will back tripling of nuclear energy if Peter Dutton becomes prime minister | Australian politics #Coalition #tells #Cop28 #tripling #nuclear #energy #Peter #Dutton #prime #minister #Australian #politics

The federal Coalition has declared at the Cop28 climate summit that it will back a global pledge to triple nuclear energy if the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, becomes prime minister, but will not support Australia tripling its renewable energy.

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference in Dubai, the opposition’s climate change and energy spokesperson, Ted O’Brien, also said a Coalition government would consider supporting Generation III+ large-scale nuclear reactors, and not just the unproven small modular reactors it has strongly touted.

The statement at the global summit confirmed the Coalition was on a markedly different path to Labor. The Albanese government last week joined more than 120 countries in backing a pledge to triple renewable energy and double the rate of energy efficiency by 2030, but did not sign up with 22 countries that supported tripling nuclear power by 2050.

While only 11% of countries at the talks – mostly nations that already have a domestic nuclear energy industry – backed the nuclear pledge, O’Brien declared “Cop28 will be known as the nuclear Cop”.

“Under a Dutton-led Coalition, at our first Cop in office we would sign Australia up to that pledge, together with our allies and our friends,” he said.

O’Brien’s speech was at a side event hosted by the World Nuclear Association and the Australian group Coalition for Conservation, which flew seven Liberal and National MPs to the summit. About 30 people attended, including Coalition members Bridget McKenzie, Andrew Bragg, Perrin Davey, Dean Smith and Kevin Hogan.

Asked if the Coalition would back the pledge to triple renewable energy by the end of the decade, O’Brien said he had “no problems” with the world backing it, but would not support Australia adopting it domestically. “What we don’t need is all of our eggs in one basket, we need a balanced mix of technologies, and that includes renewables,” he said.

The Australian climate change minister, Chris Bowen, gave a different vision for Australia’s electricity future in his national statement to the summit, urging countries “not to drift further apart” and said those such as Australia with “massive renewable potential” had a responsibility to share it with others.

“Hence Australia’s determination to become a global renewable energy superpower,” Bowen said. “We must look at our future and our fates and redouble our efforts to bring down our emissions and get our world back on track.”

In his speech, O’Brien said the Coalition would advocate for removing bans on uranium mining and exploration because Australia had “a moral obligation” to provide it to the world.

Asked why he did not accept the advice of the Australian Energy Market Operator, which found the country’s optimal future electricity grid would run on more than 90% renewable energy backed by firming support, O’Brien said he had looked at operator’s integrated system plan “in great detail”, but a Cop was “probably not the right place for going through it”.

“Nevertheless, if your question is ‘do we agree with Labor’s plan for 82% renewables in the grid by 2030?’ Well, no, we don’t,” he said.

Some observers questioned how the Coalition’s plan to slow renewable energy expansion would avoid power blackouts as old and increasingly failing coal-fired power plants closed over the next decade. O’Brien acknowledged in his speech that 80% of Australia’s “baseload power” was expected to leave the grid by 2035.

Experts say the country would not have a nuclear industry before 2040 even if the national ban on the technology was lifted now, and nuclear energy is more expensive than alternatives.

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New South Wales Coalition MP Matt Kean, a former state treasurer, acknowledged O’Brien’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions but said “obviously nuclear is a long way away” and the country should back renewable energy now.

“Who knows what might be available in another 20 years – we may have flying cars in 20 years – but that doesn’t mean you base your whole transport around it,” he said.

The chief executive of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Darren Miller, said there would be no room for nuclear energy if the country was headed towards 80% renewable energy by 2030. “It is not a flexible technology that helps you go from 80% to 100%,” he said.

The convener of the political fundraising body Climate 200, Simon Holmes à Court, said he was not opposed to a global nuclear expansion, but argued O’Brien’s proposal for Australia had “only one conclusion, and that is blackouts”. “It doesn’t add up,” he said.

Speaking alongside O’Brien, the director general of the World Nuclear Association, Sama Bilbao y León, said a nuclear expansion would be important in reaching global net zero emissions but that did not mean that it would make sense in every country. She said Australia should “at the very least do the math” on it.

The Australian domestic debate over nuclear energy came as the negotiations over a deal to accelerate global action to tackle the climate crisis entered their final days.

Despite hopes there would be a breakthrough agreement to phase out all fossil fuels – the main cause of global heating – the UN consensus process appeared unlikely to support that language. The Cop president, Sultan Al Jaber, called on countries to be open to “flexibility, compromise, cooperation and a true understanding of the urgency of the task”.

Bowen used his statement to argue the world needed to use a global stocktake of national climate commitments to find a “pathway back to safety”.

In a signal of compromise language that Australia could support, Bowen pointed to a statement at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum that the world should “transition away from coal, oil and gas in our energy systems, in line with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pathways for 1.5C, with a peak in fossil fuel consumption in the near term”.

Cop28 is due to finish on Tuesday.

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