The Abbott government could reach Australia’s five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020 if it adopts changes to its Direct Action policy proposed by Independent senator Nick Xenophon, according to independent research.
The findings of the RepuTex study suggest that if a deal is struck with the Senate cross-bench to pass Senator Xenophon’s amendments to Direct Action then the likely emissions reductions the scheme could achieve by 2020 will more than double.
But Senator Xenophon’s proposal would require the government to reverse its position on a number of climate policy measures, including the purchase of international permits to make up any shortfall in emissions reductions, a measure that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has staunchly opposed.
The RepuTex findings come as the government finalises its position on Australia’s renewable energy target in the next four to six weeks, with Mr Abbott, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane holding talks about the RET on Sunday.
Senator Xenophon has said he will not support direct action in its current form and wants significant amendments to the policy to boost Australia’s chances of meeting its international obligation to cut carbon emissions by 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020.
A deal with the senate crossbench will likely be necessary to ensure the passage of Direct Action legislation through the parliament and the government is understood to be considering the South Australian senator’s proposal, but would not speculate on any particular aspect of the amendments on Sunday.
Two studies this year have suggested that the centrepiece of the government’s policy, its $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund, will struggle to achieve even a fifth of the 421 million tonne reduction in carbon emissions the government must achieve by 2020.
But the RepuTex research finds that the government could more than double the abatement the fund could purchase from 67 million tonnes to 183 million tonnes if it adopts Senator Xenophon’s amendments.
The remaining shortfall could be almost entirely made up by imposing tough emissions baselines and penalties from July next year to ensure polluters cut their emissions, the study suggests.
Senator Xenophon’s proposal would require the government to spend the full funding for the emissions reduction fund by 2020, rather than 2024 as is currently proposed.
It would also lengthen contract periods for companies that win abatement contracts, make clear that the intention of the fund is to meet an international target, and allow for the purchase of a small number of international permits.
Senator Xenophon, who has been in talks with Mr Hunt, said he had been encouraged by the discussions and the findings of the report.
He said he believed the report showed that there was “a credible alternative pathway to reduce emissions but it must involve significant amendments to the government’s proposal”.
“The government needs to realise that there are many swinging voters out there that give enough of a damn about climate change to change their vote,” he said.
Mr Hunt favours some measures, such as the purchase of international permits, and is understood to view the Senate negotiations as a way to try to achieve them.
Meanwhile the government foreshadowed on Sunday that a decision on the future of Australia’s renewable energy target could still be weeks away.
Government sources said a final position was not expected for four to six weeks.
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