Australia plays down 'backsliding' by allies on coal, gas use

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Coal is unloaded onto large piles at the Ulan Coal mines near the central New South Wales rural town of Mudgee in Australia, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

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MELBOURNE, June 29 (Reuters) - Australia's new energy minister said on Wednesday the push for clean energy is more important than ever, even as G7 leaders water down climate protection commitments to shore up oil, gas and power supply due to the Ukraine conflict.

"I'm not worried about a backsliding of ambition, because I think serious leaders around the world get it that actually the transformation is more important than before," Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen told reporters in Canberra.

"If you're going to be reliant on gas, it's more important to be increasing your renewables," he said in a televised address.

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Countries from Germany to Japan are battling soaring energy prices and power crunches and stepping up coal use for generation due to lost gas and oil supply from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. read more

As a result, the Group of Seven rich democracies dropped a commitment to make half of all vehicles zero-emission by 2030 and gave themselves leeway to keep public financing of fossil fuel projects beyond a previously agreed deadline of end-2022. read more

Bowen, fresh off a month-long power crisis that nearly led to blackouts, said it was inevitable the transformation away from coal-fired power would be "bumpy".

Australia's new Labor government has boosted the country's pledge to cut carbon emissions, following nine years under a conservative government that favoured weaker targets and was scorned at United Nations climate talks last year.

It plans to introduce legislation in July to cut taxes on electric vehicles and will introduce a bill to enshrine in law the country's new climate pledge to cut emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Bowen was speaking a day ahead of the release of a long-term plan by the country's energy market operator to overhaul the grid to be able to handle more wind, solar and energy storage capacity as ageing coal-fired power stations shut down.

He said the government is also seeking an integrated plan for developing wind and solar farms, pumped hydro and utility-scale batteries and a green hydrogen industry, taking advantage of Australia's abundant wind and sunshine.

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Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Richard Pullin

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