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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Katharine Murphy and Adam Morton

Coalition to have sizeable contingent at Cop28 despite Peter Dutton jibe at climate change minister’s attendance

Bridget McKenzie
Bridget McKenzie is among a number of Coalition MPs travelling to the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

A significant contingent of Coalition MPs – including federal opposition frontbenchers Paul Fletcher and Bridget McKenzie – will fly out to the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai funded by two ginger groups.

Despite Peter Dutton last week making fun of the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, during an interview on 2GB for travelling to the United Nations-led international climate change conference and “incurring all those emissions”, a significant delegation of Coalition MPs will also attend the summit and associated events.

The travel is being facilitated by the Coalition for Conservation and Environmental Leadership Australia. As well as McKenzie and Fletcher, the group includes Liberal senators Andrew Bragg, Maria Kovacic and Dean Smith as well as New South Wales Liberals Matt Kean and Kellie Sloane and Queenslanders Sam O’Connor and Steve Minnikin.

Australia has backed a pledge at Cop28 to triple global renewable energy capacity and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. But Australia did not sign up to a commitment by 22 countries, including the US, Canada, Japan and Britain, to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

McKenzie, a former agriculture minister and currently the shadow infrastructure minister, will attend nuclear events associated with Cop28 and also speak at a forum designed to mobilise global support for climate responsive agriculture. She told Guardian Australia: “If we are serious about climate change then we need to be serious about the solutions to ensure energy security in a low emission future.

“Logically, until alternatives are found, this surely includes nuclear.”

Fletcher, the shadow science minister, told Guardian Australia he looked forward to learning “more about the wide array of technologies being developed and deployed, including nuclear and renewable technologies, as well as key transition fuels like natural gas”.

“As we transition towards net zero, the role of science and technology is critical,” Fletcher said. He pointed to the work of Australian companies doing “amazing work” to develop those technologies such as SunDrive in southern Sydney, Newcastle’s Minerals Carbon International and Jupiter Ionics at Monash University in Melbourne, and said he hoped to learn about others at Cop28.

Coalition for Conservation is supportive of nuclear energy. Environmental Leadership Australia is technology agnostic. Anna Rose, the chief executive of Environmental Leadership Australia, said on Monday the group was “focused on building bipartisan support for climate solutions”.

“Over the past four years we have established strong, constructive relationships with Liberal and National party politicians at both federal and state levels [and] we’re thrilled to be taking political leaders to Cop28 in Dubai where they will discuss with global counterparts how other nations are reducing carbon pollution and developing the new industries and jobs of a future, zero-emissions economy,” she said.

Bowen will fly to Dubai for the event’s final week, when ministers will attempt to wrangle a consensus position on how to lift action to tackle the climate crisis in the face of rising geopolitical tensions. Australia was represented at the opening plenary by its climate change ambassador, Kristin Tilley.

The shadow climate minister, Ted O’Brien – who has led the Coalition’s push to embrace nuclear energy in opposition – will also attend the summit.

In the Senate on Monday, the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, was asked by the shadow climate minister, Simon Birmingham, whether she agreed with the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the US special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, that nuclear energy was an essential component of reaching net zero emissions.

Wong said some of Australia’s allies had “chosen to go down the nuclear path, but that is not the approach Australia has taken”.

Asked why Australia had not signed the nuclear pledge at Cop28, Wong said most of the signatories were countries with nuclear industries although “a number of countries that have nuclear energy industries did not sign the pledge and Australia joined 117 other countries to sign a pledge to triple global renewable energy capacity, which reflects … the priorities of the government”.

Wong noted the opposition was “very, very, very committed to the nuclear path”.

“I understand Mr O’Brien has said he would be happy to have [a reactor] in his electorate,” Wong said. “That’s a matter for him … but we will focus on the form of energy which is the cheapest form of new energy, which is renewable energy, rather than what is frankly an ideological agenda from those opposite.”

Nuclear electricity is banned in Australia. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s blueprint for an optimum grid, the integrated system plan, found it could overwhelmingly run on solar and wind, with firming support from batteries, pumped hydro, virtual power plants and some fast-start gas generators that would be turned on only when needed.

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