The Nationals are dragging out internal government negotiations that will let Australia sign up to a net zero by 2050 commitment, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce refusing to reveal what terms will win their support.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under pressure to attend the major UN climate change conference in Glasgow where Australia is expected to agree to more ambitious emissions reduction goals more in line with those of other comparable nations.
Liberal MPs defended comments Mr Morrison made suggesting he may not attend the COP26 talks in November with other national leaders.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia would be represented by a senior representative at the conference.
Labor and the Greens criticised the Prime Minister for not taking climate change seriously.
The Nationals party room met online on Monday but was not shown a proposal for the government's plan for more ambitious emissions reduction. It remains "an item of discussion", Mr Joyce told the ABC on Monday.
The party is split with some backbenchers rejecting any net zero emissions goal if it means losing coal jobs, while key ministers are holding out for generous support programs for regional industries and communities.
When the party room make a decision, Mr Joyce said, the process will continue.
The Deputy Prime Minister downplayed carbon net zero scepticism in the National party by colleagues like Matt Canavan who compared a carbon neutral policy to COVID zero on Twitter.
Mr Joyce said his party understood in the long term "there may be a transition to other fuel sources" and a plan was being developed, but he and his colleagues would never put the coal industry at risk.
"We have to make sure we are part of that transition, but any jump off a cliff now will just put Australia in a financially perilous position," he said.
Senator Canavan declared he was "dead-set against" the target, a position fellow Queenslander George Christensen also held.
Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud said the party would need to see any detail before it committed to a plan.
"The fact is, regional Australians have paid most of the bill for reducing emissions," he told the Nine Network.
I am deadset against net zero emissions. Just look at the disaster the UK is living through. They're switching off their industry to keep their lights on, and they are struggling to feed themselves. Net zero emissions would just make us weaker.— Matthew Canavan (@mattjcan) September 25, 2021
"We've paid that bill. It is time to square the ledger."
Resources Minister Keith Pitt is remaining tight-lipped about the prospect of the junior coalition partner supporting a 2050 goal until a proposal comes before the party room.
Former Nationals minister Darren Chester, who announced on the weekend he was taking a hiatus from what the partyroom he called "dysfunctional", said he was increasingly disappointed in his colleagues, who were "trying to push a hard right-wing agenda which I wasn't comfortable with."
He said Australia needed a plan to reduce emissions.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the Prime Minister should commit to travelling to the United Nations climate change conference.
"He should represent Australia. If he doesn't, it's because he's embarrassed about Australia's position," Mr Albanese told reporters on Monday.
Mr Morrison had told the West Australian newspaper he had not made a final decision about attending COP26 and raised concern about the amount of time he had already spend in quarantine this year after several overseas trips and the need to focus on COVID at home.
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