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Election 2013: Where major parties stand on clean energy and climate

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(Note: this has been updated since it was first published in January when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard set the date for a September 14 poll).

The official party platforms have not yet been unveiled for the September 7 poll. Still, it’s pretty clear where the three main parties stand, so we’ve outlined the principal issues.

We’ll be updating and expanding this document over he course of the campaign – including extending it to Senators and other independents who could have an influence over the election result. We’d welcome your input in the comments section below, or to editor (at) reneweconomy.com.au.

CLIMATE CHANGE, IS IT REAL?

Coalition: Coalition leader Tony Abbott is still haunted by his remark describing the science underpinning climate change as “crap”, which hasn’t been helped by recent comments about CO2 being an “invisible” commodity that can’t be delivered. A description borrowed directly from climate skeptics. Abbott is also surrounded by climate denialists in own party, to whom he owes his elevation, and on his Business Advisory Council, which is to be chaired by Maurice Newman, who also happens to be a vocal anti-wind energy campaigner. Climate Change spokesman Greg Hunt insists the Coalition accepts the science.

Labor: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd famously described climate change as “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”. But he never delivered on the policies he promised. His first act as a re-appointed PM was to try and diffuse the issue at the polling booth by promising to end the fixed price early and move to a cheaper trading scheme. Has shown more aptitude for using climate change as a wedge than as a policy priority. All ministers say they accept the science, even former skeptic Gary Gray, the new energy minister.

Greens: Yes, and they are the only party to propose policies that truly reflect the science.

CARBON PRICE

Coalition: Abbott’s repeated vows to repeal the carbon price are now backed by an official Coalition policy plan, which says that, if elected, Abbott’s first order of business will be “to instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to draft legislation that repeals the Carbon Tax and to have the legislation ready within one month.” But he may have trouble achieving this goal, particularly if the Coalition does not have majority in Senate, as now seem unlikely. Threats of a double dissolution have also been raised, but that will depend on numbers and vote appetite for a climate referendum, particularly as it would be held after the release of the latest IPCC report.

The Coalition’s Direct Action plan proposes cutting carbon through sequestration and CCS and the establishment of a $3 billion Emissions Reduction Fund “to allocate money in response to emission reduction tenders to projects designed to reduce carbon emissions.” There is still confusion about how this will operate – whether it is just a reverse auction or a baseline and credit scheme once promoted by the likes of Frontier Economics. It says it will have a White Paper within six months of being elected.

Labor: One of Rudd’s first moves was to announce an early move to a traded scheme – by July 1, 2014, instead of July 1, 2015. This requires legislation, which is yet to be presented to parliament. If passed, the Australian carbon price will fall to around the level of the European price, to which it is being linked. The EU price is trading at around $7, instead of the current $24 a tonne fixed price.

Greens: As Greens Leader Christine Milne told RenewEconomy in an interview in April of last year, throughout the party’s negotiations with the ALP on the carbon pricing scheme, “I said we needed a carbon price plus, plus, plus – including the RET and the CEFC – and I continue to say that.” And while there are elements of the scheme the Greens are not happy with, such as the size of the carbon compensation packages being handed back to the big polluters, the party collaborated with the Gillard government to get the carbon price through parliament, and then collaborated again on the decision to scrap the carbon floor price and link the scheme with the EU market.

RENEWABLE ENERGY TARGET

Labor: Says it supports the fixed target of 41,000GWh by 2020, which will likely deliver more than the minimum 20 per cent. Minister Mark Butley says the government will legislate after the election to push the next review of the RET out to 2016 – a crucial move to give the clean energy industry the certainty it craves, and which was recommended by the Climate Change Authority.

Coalition: It says it support the 20 per cent target, even the 41,00GWh fixed target, but crucially it wants another review next year. It has made noises that it is sympathetic to the view of the incumbent generators, and some Coalition state governments that own those assets, that the RET should be diluted because of reduced demand.  It promises to scrap the CCA.

Greens: They want the RET extended and the target lifted to 50 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent “as soon as possible” – and no later than 2050.

EMISSIONS REDUCTION TARGET

Labor: Committed to a 5% cut from 2000 levels by 2020, with a possible 15-25% reduction depending on the action of other countries. It has indicated it will be guided by – but not necessarily beholden to – a review by the Climate Change Authority, which will deliver a report on appropriate targets and trajectories. That seems almost certain to recommend at least a 15 per cent cut, and may recommend more depending on the findings of the IPCC review and international action.

Coalition: Also committed to a 5% cut, and also says it will cut emissions by 25% depending on other factors. However, it has vowed to scrap the Climate Change Authority, and no one can figure out how Direct Action can meet ambitious targets, because the Coalition has not yet explained how Direct Action will work.

Greens: Want emissions reductions target raised to a 25-40% cut by 2020, with 100% reductions as “soon as practical.”

CLEAN ENERGY FINANCE CORP

Labor: With the support of the Greens, the Gillard government ushered the legislation for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation through the Senate in June last year, giving the green light for the establishment of a $10 billion green investment bank for clean energy development. Under the bill, the government will invest $2 billion a year over five years, with which the CEFC will support renewable and low-emission projects through loans, guarantees and equity investments. The government says the corporation will become self-supporting.

Coalition: Wants to scrap it – a threat that has been repeated by the likes of shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, and Coalition energy spokesman Ian MacFarlane – who said last year that it was designed to use taxpayers money for projects that the private sector would not fund. And back in 2011, shadow finance minister Andrew Robb described the CEFC as a “a honeypot to every white-shoe salesman imaginable.”

The Coalition attempted to stop the CEFC from making any investments after Gillard signalled a September poll. As it turns out the CEFC has committed around $300 million to a range of projects, including wind farms, waste methane gas, a large solar PV plant and a solar thermal facility. If elected, an Abbott government would order the CEFC to suspend its operations while the department of finance prepared legislation to shut it down permanently.  However, any such move would require support in parliament.

Greens: Strong supporters of the CEFC as “a key plank of the carbon price agreement” and a world-leading investment into renewable energy and clean technology. The Greens have argued that the CEFC should be additional to the RET.

SOLAR:

Labor: Introduced the solar multiplier which helped light a fire under the uptake of solar PV, but has now accelerated its redundancy as costs fall. Future solar strategy yet to be articulated, but this will need to be addressed because it is becoming clear that more Australians will look to isntall rooftop solar, and this has major consequences for incumbent generators and network operators, and the tariffs paid by all consumers.

Coalition: Has been forced to adapt its “one million roofs policy”  to a  ”one million more roofs” policy, that will likely target low income families. Has $100 million to spend on this per year.

Greens: Wants a national feed in tariff and incentives to continue, and to remove impediments to roll out of commercial solar. Favours targeted investment in large scale solar. 

CARBON FARMING INITIATIVE

Labor: The ALP’s initiative to pay farmers and landowners to store carbon in their trees and soil, or for reducing their own emissions, was passed into legislation in August 2011 after lengthy negotiations with the Greens over which projects should and shouldn’t be included. Currently, it covers (subject to assessment and approval) methodologies for reforestation, legacy waste emissions from landfill sites, manure management in intensive livestock production and savanna fire management. However, the early move to a traded carbon price, and the linking to the low European price, has brought many projects to a halt.

Coalition: One of the few current climate policies they support. However, their own ambitions for CFI (which largely involves burying a whole lot of carbon in agricultural soil), and the abatement they claim can be obtained have been queried by scientists, and farmers say the Coalition are underestimating the cost at which CFI initiatives are economically attractive.

Greens: The Greens supported the Carbon Farming Initiative through the Lower House – after previously saying they would block the bill over concerns some of the projects included in the scheme could have unintended negative consequences for the farming industry, the environment and water usage – and then the Senate soon after. Senator Milne has since praised the initiative as a boost to farmers, as well as an opportunity to increase employment in remote Aboriginal communities.

However, as part of their stated policies, the Greens have also called for the “adoption of the precautionary principle in relation to carbon capture and storage (geosequestration) by opposing public funding, and ensuring that companies are financially responsible for the risks of CO2 leakage.”

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  • Stuart

    Good start off article. I would be interested in you updating this article as the campaign progresses; especially with attitude of parties to other renewables such as biomass, geothermal, wind etc. Keep us updated.

  • J

    Get ready for a coalition policy of a 0.5 STC multiplier! Labor has created a perfect mechanism for Abbott to reduce small scale subsidies.

  • Shane

    With the mounting evidence of global warming and it’s subsequent effects we can ill afford and indeed it would be an environmental and humanitarian travesty to vote in a government of deniers!

    • Louise

      Yes, having read this outline of Coalition policy on addressing climate change and renewable energy, I am truly scared by the prospect of a Liberal government. They will dismantle any progress made towards transitioning from fossil fuels. This is a call to arms to all activists who care for environmental justice.

  • Chitra Perez

    Useful information thanks. Also, what are the respective positions regarding coal exports? I’d like to see that addressed in future updates.

  • John Bowman

    Traditionally wealth has been generated by the power of accumulation. The future is the accumulation of power. [battery stored renewable]

  • Julia Winefield

    Small correction: our national target is a 5% cut on 2000 levels, not 1990 (using 1990 would make it slightly more ambitious)

    • Giles Parkinson

      Quite right for the government, and change made, although the Coalition document cites 1990 for their target.

  • Natasha

    I know who I WON’T be voting for! When will the Coalition stop denying?

  • http://twitter Margaret head

    How can Tony Abbott deny climate change. The Antarctic is melting and floods and cyclones are becoming more serious and more often world wide. What has to happen to make him see it. After my studying it for 54 years it makes him sound so stupid. Our children and grandchildren are going to pay for it and he and so many in the coalition are the reason for this ignorance.

  • Derek

    Caretaker conventions are merely conventions, and are predicated on the usual circumstances – such as an election only being called a few weeks in advance. By Abbott’s logic, if we had absolutely fixed terms, no government could implement anything the opposition had sworn to repeal.