The states and territories have put aside their differences to commit to ongoing detailed design work on the Turnbull government’s signature energy policy, although some opposition remains.
Hopes the National Energy Guarantee would be signed off in its current form on Friday were cast aside at a meeting of the nation’s energy ministers in Melbourne in favour of continued work by the Energy Security Board.
“I’m confident that all the issues that were discussed … with the ministers we can work through and that we can land a position in August which is in the national interest,” Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said in Melbourne.
The biggest opposition came from Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, who all want a higher target for emissions reduction, reflecting the ease of reducing electricity emissions relative to agriculture, transport and industry.
The 26 per cent target is at the lower end of Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments to reduce 2005 level emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.
Australia needs ambitious but achievable targets and the NEG must allow for increased emission reduction goals, Victorian minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten supported more work on the policy.
“If the policy’s fair dinkum then we’re up for working with the government because the single greatest contributor to power prices going up and up is a lack of national policy certainty,” he said.
But the target is one area on which Mr Frydenberg appears unlikely to waver.
“We are the party to the Paris Agreement and the commonwealth will set the emissions reduction targets for Australia and the way in which we will meet them,” he said.
Some states want their own more targets recognised in addition, but while Mr Frydenberg said legally he couldn’t stop them having targets, that was not what the government wanted.
Queensland’s Energy Minister Anthony Lynham went into the talks with non-negotiables include allowing the state to maintain its “rock solid” 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, continued downward price pressure and an ability to scale up the emissions target.
“We’ve received reassurances today that those demands will be met so we’re happy for detailed design to go through to August,” he said.
ACT Greens leader and Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury committed to remaining at the table but at a federal level, the party took a blunt position.
“The NEG is a dog. It locks in coal, locks out renewables and puts an impossible burden on agriculture and transport to cut their pollution,” lower house MP Adam Bandt said.
The new deadline for a decision is the next Energy Council meeting in August, allowing time for legislation to pass parliament by the end of this year ahead of the scheduled 2019 start date.