By Jill Fraser
Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne said Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been "caught out" by a report warning that the country’s worst polluting coal-fired power stations pose a risk to the economy, the environment and investors.
The Oxford University report shows that "Australia boasts four of the biggest polluters on the planet," Milne told The Anadolu Agency on Sunday.
"This is more evidence that there is absolutely no justification for shutting down renewable energy. Rather the imperative is to shut down dirty coal," she stressed.
The report's lead author Ben Caldecott, currently a guest of the University of Sydney Business School's Balanced Enterprise Research Network, said the report shows that "Australia’s subcritical power stations have the highest average carbon emissions of any major country." Of the stations, nearly two-thirds are more than 30 years old.
Australia has 22 coal-fired power stations, which generate around a quarter of the country's carbon emissions.
The recently released report found that four Australian power companies -- AGL, Origin, Stanwell and Delta -- accounted for more than half of the subcritical capacity, the least efficient grade.
The International Energy Agency has calculated that a quarter of the world's subcritical capacity needs to be shut down by 2020.
Australia has 26 gigawatts of that capacity, making up nearly 10 percent of the total, Caldecott told the ABC.
Referring to the excess 9,000 megawatts of coal fire generated in Australia, Milne told AA, "with the news that these companies are the big polluters, it’s time the government started to systematically close down these high polluting coal-fired power stations."
The report highlights an urgent need for action on renewable energy investment in Australia.
Friends of the Earth spokesperson Cam Walker, however, told AA that some of the power companies named in the report have worked to undermine the country’s Renewable Energy Target.
According to the current target, 20 percent of Australia's energy mix -- or 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) -- must come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020.
The coalition government, however, wants to cut this target. Last week, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane revealed his final offer was a target of 32,000 GWh, and expressed his confidence in securing a crossbench deal in support.
Walker maintains that the government is out of step with both climate science and community sentiment.
"As the Abbott government pursues its attempt to destroy the Renewable Energy Target, polling consistently shows that the majority of people want more, not less renewable energy," he said.
"Only 8 percent of people feel that the RET is too high, with a large majority supporting keeping the current RET or setting it higher. Support for renewable energy is the most popular way to take action on climate change."
Milne expressed similar views, arguing that it would be a "win/win for Australia" if the 41,000 GWh target was maintained and "some of the dirtiest coal fired plants in the world" shut down.
However, according to a leaked briefing paper obtained by Fairfax Media last week, Australian officials had been instructed to try to protect fossil fuel subsidies at OECD talks this month. The paper revealed that the Abbott government is frustrating efforts by the U.S., the U.K. and France to wind back export subsidies for new but environmentally harmful coal stations in third world countries.
"Anyone who was unsure if the government's attack on the Renewable Energy Target was anything other than attempt to prop up coal would now be in no doubt," Milne said Sunday.
"Can you believe that Australia is using its position internationally to try to stop other countries from curbing subsidies for coal fired power?"
Australia’s government has argued for the environmental benefits of developing countries having access to up-to-date "emissions-reducing coal-fired" technology, warning that OECD members limiting finance could lead to such countries seeking less efficient technology from elsewhere.