Politician and ‘enlightened’ climate sceptic pledges to vote for Australia renewables target

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Australian coal tycoon and leader of the country’s centre-right Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer, has said he will vote to protect Australia’s Renewable Energy Target.

Holding a press conference yesterday with former US vice president Al Gore to outline his party’s stance on climate change policies, Palmer said his party would block ongoing attempts by the prime minister Tony Abbott’s attempts to scrap the target.

He said Palmer United would also vote to keep the Climate Change Authority (CCA) – which independently reviews policy recommendations on climate change – and support the retention of Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which helps to secure finance for the clean energy sector.

The move represents an about-turn for Palmer, who has stakes in iron ore, nickel, oil and coal, and is the founder and chairman of Mineralogy, chairman for Queensland Nickel and China First Coal and Iron Ore and Kingsway Oil. Only recently he professed scepticism about the science of climate change.

At the press conference Palmer said: “Our ability to adapt to change and keep an open mind on issues which affect all of us is what really matters, it is not the labor way or the liberal way, it is the right way that is important to Australia and important for the world.”

The Australian Solar Council (ASC) hailed the move as an important step towards saving the RET.

The national RET target currently aims to source 20% of Australia’s power  from renewable energy, including solar, by 2020. But when Abbott took office in September 2013, he made clear his intention to drastically cut spending on climate targets and highlighted the possibility of scrapping the RET, citing high consumer energy prices as a more pressing priority.

But before being able to scrap the RET, the Abbott government must first win approval from the Australian senate, where it does not have a majority.

By uniting with the Labor and Green parties, and independent senators, Palmer United could help save the RET, the ASC said.

John Grimes, ASC chief executive, said in an email to supporters that Palmer’s support for the RET means “it is possible, perhaps probable, that the RET will not be changed prior to the federal election in 2016”.

“This gives the solar industry a degree of certainty for at least that short time,” he wrote.

“We know the government is determined to slash the RET and 2016 is not that far away. The RET Review continues until the Government ends the sham. We will remain vigilant on any push to cut the RET.”

Gore’s support

Palmer met Gore at his Parliament House office, following the meeting with a joint press conference, in which Palmer praised Al Gore and his actions on climate change.

Palmer then told ABC Lateline that Al Gore had “enlightened” him, after Palmer had previously denied climate science. Palmer said Al Gore had approached him to talk about climate change. “We can’t put our head in the sand if this is a global issue,” Palmer said.

“Australia acting alone cannot change the world, and change the world we must,” Palmer said at the press conference.

Gore was in Australia as part of the non profit environmental activism and awareness group he founded, ‘Climate Reality’.

Gore said the conference is an “extraordinary moment in which Australia, the US, and the rest of the world is finally beginning to confront the climate crisis in a meaningful way”.

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