Labor’s new climate policy, released on Friday afternoon at the end of the parliamentary year, is impossible to assess without holding it up against 12-plus years of ruined Australian climate policy – but let’s give it a try.
Yes, Labor has lost a number of elections in which they promised to do more than the coalition in the climate field and were rewarded with lies and misinformation. Attention will probably soon turn to whether the opposition’s plan for 2022 is electively viable. Fair enough.
But we should start with the principles first: is the policy – called Powering Australia – up to the task of dealing with the climate crisis? And could it enable Australia to thrive in a future that is no longer dependent on fossil fuels?
At first blush, the short answers are (1) no, not on this alone and (2) possibly.
Anthony Albanese’s plan is aimed at achieving a 2030 emissions target while expanding industries that could eventually deliver net zero emissions by 2050. Unlike the coalition, it does not pretend to map a path to achieving this goal by the middle of the century.
The overall emissions target – a 43% cut by 2030 compared to 2005 levels – will be described by some as a stretch and was quickly attacked by Scott Morrison as bad news for coal regions and manufacturing. But the plan tells a different story.
In fact, it is a modest goal when measured against what would happen anyway, while still being more ambitious than the coalition’s “technology will save us” approach. Which, of course, is the point.
That is far from what scientists have found Australia should do if the world is to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, let alone the 1.5C target supported by more than 190 countries in the recent Glasgow climate pact.
Several studies have suggested that Australia should make a reduction of at least 50% this decade, and almost certainly significantly more, to play its part in tackling the crisis. ClimateWorks Australia found that rapid, deep cuts can be achieved using technology that is mature and accessible.
This is now widely accepted in significant parts of the business world. Bizarre enough given the long history of the industry running intimidation campaigns against climate policies, the country’s major business groups will now have governments to cut emissions deeper than both major parties are proposing.
Albanese and his spokesman for climate change, Chris Bowen, stressed that their plan was based on official government projections that the country would make at least a 30% cut even without introducing new policies. Separate assessments have found that government action – particularly in the major states, New South Wales and Victoria – is likely to lift it to somewhere in the mid to high 30s if delivered as promised.
It tells us that even before we get into the details, Labor’s goals are more than achievable and should be seen as a floor to what is possible.
Albanese’s central claim is that the policy will create jobs – it estimates 64,000 directly and 540,000 indirectly – and cut electricity bills while increasing renewable energy.
The key driver is a previously announced off-budget $ 20 billion. “re-wiring the nation corporation”, which has the task of upgrading the electricity grid. Bringing planned new transmission connections is intended to enable a faster influx of large-scale solar, wind and batteries into regional renewable energy zones. It also commits $ 300 million to develop community batteries and common “solar banks” for households and businesses that can’t put panels on their roofs.
The energy and climate company RepuTex, which was modeled for Labor’s policy, estimates that it will lead to renewable energy, which will supply 82% of electricity by 2030, up from 68% on the current track. The increase in cheap clean energy is expected to reduce the electricity bill by an average of $ 275 by 2025.
Labour’s plan is unlikely to claim that the accelerated roll-out of renewable energy will not lead to an early shutdown of aging coal-fired power plants, despite experts already predicting that some could shut down earlier than planned. The idea that coal power and its jobs will continue when its electricity is no longer needed is remarkably hard to shake in Canberra, if not elsewhere.
The biggest new element in Friday – or rebuilt old element as it was part of Labour’s abandoned 2019 policy – is that Albanese and Bowen plan to use the coalition’s protection mechanism to reduce emissions in large industrial areas.
The protection mechanism was introduced under Tony Abbott with a promise that it would set a limit on industrial emissions. In practice, it has failed – companies have been consistently allowed to increase their carbon pollution without penalty, and industrial emissions have increased by 17% since 2005 and 7% since insurance began in 2016. Both industry representatives and climate activists believe it has scheme a waste of time.
Greg Hunt, the scheme’s architect when the environment minister, planned that emission limits under protection would eventually be tightened, but the coalition ultimately refused to force companies to act. Labor now promises to do what Hunt always intended by working with the business community to reduce industrial greenhouse gases by $ 5 million. tonnes – around 1% of Australia’s total emissions – one year from 2023.
Combined with direct financing from the business community from a new national reconstruction fund of DKK 15 billion. USD, which would provide low-cost financing to the industry to embrace clean solutions, the modeling suggests that this will reduce emissions by up to 48 million. tons per year by 2030. Bowen said Friday he expected about 50% of the cuts through the security measures would come through the use of improved technology, the rest from companies paying for CO2 compensation.
Labor has some political coverage here. It not only uses an existing coalition policy, but has adopted a model published by the Business Council of Australia in October. The government was nevertheless quick to attack it, describing it as a “snooty new carbon tax”.
Albanians promise much less in the short term to reduce emissions from transportation, which was a major area of growth in carbon pollution growth before the Covid-19 shutdowns. He has dropped Labor’s 2019 commitment on a standard for vehicle emissions that requires average exhaust emissions to be reduced over time. It is further evidence that Morrison’s false claim before the last election that the ALP planned to “end the weekend” by forcing people to drive electric cars continues to have an impact.
Instead, Labor is focusing on tax breaks for emissions vehicles. Together with the roll-out of the charging infrastructure, the modeling suggests that this will contribute to 89% of new car sales and 15% of all vehicles being electric cars by 2030.
These policies call for a promise of a smaller reduction in emissions by 2030 than Labor promised under Bill Shorten less than three years ago, when the goal was a 45% reduction.
From one perspective, this is remarkable, given that global urgency efforts have only increased in the last two years. On the other hand, Labor has made a more ambitious emissions pledge than many expected, given the internal concern over yet another scare campaign backed by News Corp.
Asked on Friday about his response to those who say his policy does not live up to what climate science requires, Albanese claimed the new target was roughly the same as Canada’s – another fossil fuel economy – and suggested the ALP had acted responsible by first formulating its policies and then paying for independent modeling to calculate what they would deliver.
Few would argue that this is how one would design a climate policy if one starts from scratch.
What is routinely described as the most efficient way forward – a well-designed carbon price – remains off the table since the coalition abolished a functioning scheme in 2014. And there is no obligation to cut fossil fuel subsidies or slow down state-funded expansion of the gas industry .
Perhaps the most important thing in Labour’s favor, if it wins next year’s election, is that significant sections of business and the investment community are now ready to relocate in a way they have not been before. People may be surprised at how quickly an emission reduction target of 43% could be reached or surpassed under a government more likely to support this push.