Labor will commit to the goal of Australia achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and embrace the ambitious target of cutting emissions by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030.
Unveiling the opposition’s policy positions ahead of next week’s international climate conference, Bill Shorten on Friday will condemn the 2030 target the government is taking to Paris as “pathetic”.
He will say that within its first year a Labor government, guided by its 2030 and 2050 goals, will announce an emissions reduction target for 2025.
Australia’s pledge for Paris is to reduce emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.
The latest announcement further sharply differentiates Labor’s climate stand from the Coalition’s. It has already committed itself to an emissions trading scheme. The 2030 target will be a test for it with the business community.
Shorten says that achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal. “This means by 2050, every tonne of pollution we produce will need to be balanced by sequestration, offsetting or purchasing.”
It “will demand major technological transitions in a range of industries”.
But changing technology, modernising fuels and embracing clean energy does not mean trading away prosperity, he says in his address for the Lowy Institute.
He points to ClimateWorks modelling based on net zero emissions by 2050 that forecasts the Australian economy would still be 150% larger than now. “With the right plan and the right approach, Australia can lower emissions and lift economic growth. We can cut pollution and create jobs,” Shorten says.
He says achieving net zero emissions would require embracing everything from switching transport, industry and buildings to biofuels, gas and carbon-free electricity to reducing agricultural emissions through better land management, farming practices and increased carbon forestry.
Labor will use the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels as the basis for its consultations with industry, employers, unions and the community.
“We will undertake this process mindful of the consequences for jobs, for regions and for any impacts on households.
“Our target will work in concert with our 2050 objective, and our strategies for managing transitions within particular sectors.”
Environment spokesman Mark Butler will lead the consultations, starting immediately, and report back by March.
“A 45% baseline reduction would be an ambitious target for Australia, particularly on a per capital basis,” Shorten says.
“But we should not shy away from ambition.”
The government’s own modelling found that the economic impact of a 45% target would be minimal.
Labor would support a pledge and review process every five years, to help Australia track its commitments and respond to international action.
Malcolm Turnbull will attend the start of the Paris conference on Monday. Shorten is also going to Paris.
In a swingeing attack on Turnbull, Shorten says Turnbull “is flying to Paris carrying Tony Abbott’s climate sceptic baggage.
“The prime minister will walk onto the aerobridge with a pathetic target in one hand and an expensive joke of a climate policy in the other.”
“The Abbott-Turnbull 2030 target puts Australia at the back of the international pack. It falls well short of Australia’s obligation to help keep warming below 2 degrees on pre-industrial levels,” Shorten says.
“Under Direct Action, it is taxpayers, not polluters, who pay to reduce emissions at a signifiant cost to the budget.”
Shorten says no-one had delivered a more incisive critique of Direct Action than Turnbull who labelled it “an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing”.
“He had the courage to tell the truth when he was a backbencher, with nothing to lose. Yet now, when power is in his grasp and the evidence is in front of his eyes. He cannot admit what he knows in his heart and head to be true.”
Despite the government’s “accounting chicanery” Australia’s emissions are going up not down, Shorten says.
Australia needs to “reset” discussions related to climate policy, according to the government’s advisory body on climate policy. The Climate Change Authority makes the argument in the second draft report of its special review on policy.
In a statement released today, acting chair Stuart Allinson said, “it is time for a fresh look at the range of policy options… with a view to ‘resetting’ Australia’s public discussion”.
“In recent years, the climate policy conversation has become highly polarised. Different policy options have attracted both strong support and criticism. At times it appears, amid the heated debate, we have lost sight of the key goal,” he said.
The authority is looking at a range of policies to meet Australia’s 2030 climate target including emissions trading schemes, renewable energy policy, energy efficiency schemes, and policies similar to the government’s current Emissions Reduction Fund.
As part of the same review in July 2015, the authority recommended Australia reduce its emissions 30% below 2000 levels by 2025, and 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030. In August, the government announced a target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, equivalent to 22% below 2000 levels.
The government has outlined a range of policies to meet the target including extending the Emissions Reduction Fund beyond 2020, vehicle emissions standards, and other policies to be developed.
Katherine Lake, research associate in climate law at University of Melbourne said the review was an opportunity to put a “toxic and polarised debated behind us” after Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as prime minister.
She said Australia would ultimately need a price on carbon supported by both parties.
“To meet our 2030 reduction targets, and beyond, in a cost-effective manner, we will need bipartisan support to put a price on carbon, something Australia has only had for a brief time while Malcolm Turnbull was leader of the opposition.”
“A mandatory emissions trading scheme (similar to the EU, China, California) is likely to be most effective, but a broad-based baseline and credit scheme, similar to the government’s safeguard mechanism, could also be implemented.”
But Ben Parr, research associate at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, warned emissions trading discussions would need to avoid “revisiting a stale past”.
“Australia could reinstitute an emissions trading scheme, but it would have to be significantly more environmentally effective than the Rudd-Turnbull deal in 2009.”
The deal struck between then-opposition leader Turnbull and prime minister Rudd saw compensation to the coal industry and electricity sector increased by billions of dollars, and made further concessions to the gas industry.
Parr said the governemnt’s current policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund, was inadequate.
“It is a system that gives subsidies, public money, to big polluters to encourage them to emit less pollution. A better, principled, approach is the polluter-pays principle, which ensures that those doing the damage pay for it,” he said.
He also said the fund was “somewhat incompatible with the policy approach of Australia’s key strategic and trading partners such as the US, Europe, and China, which makes international linkage difficult – that is, the flow of ‘carbon credits’.”
The terms of reference for the review require the authority to consider whether an emissions trading scheme would harm Australia’s international competitiveness. According to Parr, “this does not bode well for strong action on climate change under the Turnbull government.”
As seen under governments since Hawke, Parr said this framing makes “some policies and international negotiating positions seem natural and necessary, while excluding others. Simply, this discourse determines what policies are possible, and what aren’t.”
The authority will issue its final report in June 2016.