Former prime minister Tony Abbott wants the government to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, saying it would be the best way to keep energy prices down and save the Liberals from "a political legacy that could haunt us".

The vocal critic of the Turnbull government’s National Energy Guarantee made the call during a speech in Melbourne on Tuesday night.

Mr Abbott, who committed to emissions reductions of 26-28 per cent by 2030 when he was prime minister, pointed to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris agreement last year.

“When the world’s leading country withdraws it can hardly be business as usual,” he told the Australian Environment Foundation in the speech which was posted on his website.

“Our 2015 target, after all, was set on the basis that the agreement would be ‘applicable to all … parties’. Absent America, my government would not have signed up to the Paris treaty, certainly not with the current target.”

Mr Abbott said his government never put emissions reduction ahead of the families budgets or well being of business.

However, he could understand why his successor sought to “crack the so-called trilemma of keeping the lights on, getting power prices down and reducing emissions in line with our Paris targets”.

“It’s just that there’s no plausible evidence all three can be done at the same time,” he said.

“Withdrawing from the Paris agreement that is driving the National Energy Guarantee would be the best way to keep prices down and employment up, and to save our party from a political legacy that could haunt us for the next decade at least,” he added.

“As long as we remain in the Paris agreement – which is about reducing emissions, not building prosperity – all policy touching on emissions will be about their reduction, not our well-being.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday defended his government’s energy policy, crediting it with driving down wholesale electricity prices.

“It is time for energy policy to get out of the realm of politics and ideology and be guided by engineering and economics, and that is what my government is doing,” he said.

Mr Abbott is among a small group of coalition MPs who have spoken out against the NEG, which is backed by a majority of government MPs.

The Australian Environment Foundation describes its membership as “practical environmentalists” speaking up for Australians who “little or no say in the environmental policies being put to governments”.