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Labor trumps Coalition on climate, forces Turnbull into Abbott-era scare campaign

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Labor has sought to outflank the Coalition government by committing to a zero net carbon pollution target by 2050, proposing two separate “low-cost” emission trading schemes, and reinforcing its interim commitments to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and reaching 50 per cent renewable energy by the same date.

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Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler and leader Bill Shorten at an Australian wind farm

The proposal – officially launched by Bill Shorten and climate spokesman Mark Butler at the Gatton solar farm in Queensland on Wednesday morning – was hailed by most environmental groups, although nearly all noted that in a week of the Paris climate deal signing, more temperature records, and worsening impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, the party could have gone a lot further, and a lot quicker.

The Greens did just that, with Senator Richard di Natale reinforcing his party’s commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent and reach 90 per cent renewables by 2030 – a target that is not far short of studies produced by Beyond Zero Emissions and the Institute for Sustainable Futures in recent weeks.

But the Labor strategy is intent on differentiating itself from the Coalition, and to bait a trap for prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been forced to inherit and defend the policies of his predecessor, Tony Abbott, that he often ridiculed as “reckless” and a fig leaf for action.

And Turnbull duly obliged, accusing Labor of producing a “jobs-destroying” policy – even though, on the estimates of the Climate Change Authority and others, it is exactly what Australia has signed up for in the Paris agreement.

Turnbull, in two separate press conferences on Wednesday, was channeling the words of Abbott:

“(The Labor policy) is well above what we committed to at Paris and will put a very big burden on Australians,” Turnbull said. “This is yet another economic handbrake that Labor is putting on our economy, another restraint on jobs to add to all the other job-destroying measures they’re proposing,” he said at another.Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.53.47 PM

Indeed, environment minister Greg Hunt and deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce both trotted out old claims that Labor’s renewable energy policy would nearly double electricity prices, claims that have been rejected by the CCA – the author of the report they were supposedly citing – and by The Climate Institute. Labor says its policies can limit the impact on GDP to just 0.12 per cent. Hunt spoke of a huge “electricity tax.”

The Coalition currently has a target of cutting emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030, a target widely judged to be incompatible with the Paris climate pact.

It has no renewable energy target beyond 2020, and has been fiddling with the CEFC mandate and proposes to cut all remaining funding from ARENA. It appears hamstrung by Turnbull’s commitment to the Far Right of the Coalition to not change the Abbott policies. Turnbull appears unable to change its policy before an agreed review in 2017.

Labor, on the other hand, proposes a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, in line with the recommendation of the CCA. Turnbull argued on Wednesday that this would put Australia at the front of the pack, but analysts suggested it would do no such thing.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance said Australia is a “follower”, not a leader, and may need to increase its pollution reduction targets to 63 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030, just to keep up with its trading partners.
“Australia’s major trading partners could well pledge stronger 2030 emissions reduction commitments at the five-yearly review points in 2020 and 2025,” BNEF said in a new report.
“Australia – which is essentially a follower on climate policy – will likely follow suit as it seeks to keep pace with peers and retain its place as a ‘diplomatic middle power’.”
It said the Coalition’s current targets should be regarded as “low case”. Australia’s final 2030 target is likely to be higher and somewhere between this and a high-case scenario of 45-63 per cent, which is Australia’s fair-share of burden to limit warming to 2°C.
The 45 per cent target is the extent of Labor’s commitment to date. And to get that far, it proposes emissions trading, but rather than a single, economy-wide scheme that might expose it to accusations of pushing up bills, it is proposing two separate schemes, phased in over time.
The primary one is an emissions-intensity scheme for the electricity sector, similar to the one proposed by the Coalition’s favourite advisor, and one that the Coalition is likely to be forced to adopt when it reviews its policies and seeks to expand Direct Action into something that actually reduces emissions, rather than allowing them to grow.
It is a scheme that was suggested by the Grattan Institute as a compromise, should the two mainstream parties ever be minded to have a bipartisan approach to climate change and the decarbonisation of the Australian economy.
If the Coalition is to reject them, it will mean arguing against the most likely policy mechanism available to it. But that appears what it intends to do.

The policy effectively allows dirty power stations (brown and black coal) to buy credits from clean power stations (wind and solar). It is expected to have a minimum impact on electricity prices. It would start from 2018, and be ratcheted up through a series of baseline and caps adjustments.

Even the Electricity Supply Council welcomed the move, although it pointed out it was short on detail – and the detail of Labor’s energy policies (and the huge compensation packages it proposed in previous governments) have been its Achilles Heel in the past.

The second part of the ETS is a scheme that would cover facilities emitting more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon pollution annually. It would run from 2018 to 2020, impose caps on pollution consistent with Australia’s 2020 target of a 5 per cent cut in emissions, and would involve no price.

Instead, it could provide offsets for any breaches in pollution that could be sourced at negligible price from overseas carbon markets. The design and cost of a wider scheme to help meet the 2030 target between 2020 and 2030 would be designed by 2019.

Labor is also proposing a scheme to close down brown coal generators, possibly by adopting a scheme proposed by ANU climate economists that would see the cost of closure shared by other brown coal generators.

While regarded as far from perfect, it is seen as the most effective option to break the deadlock on brown coal generation. Separate analysis from Reputex suggest the cost to the energy consumer of closing down brown coal generators would be minimal.

Labor has also committed to a 50 per cent renewable energy target, but has not yet said how it will achieve that. As RenewEconomy reported earlier this month, it will not be through an extension of the current target, but with other mechanisms, quite possibly a series of reverse auction successfully adopted  by the ACT government, and widely used overseas.

The Labor policy included other initiatives studied separately. It proposes additional funds of $206 million for solar tower and storage, and promises to protect ARENA and widen the ambit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

It also proposes nearly $100 million in funding to promote community energy, seen as a key ingredient to a decentralised energy system. It proposes a Community Action Plan and a series of regional hubs. And it proposes initiatives to deal with extensive land clearing.  

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  • JustThink4Once

    I still wonder why direct action is not highlighted by Labor for what it is. Corporate socialism, where the public subsidizes the environmental cost generated by fossil fuel users in their pursuit of profit. We actually have a public convinced that it’s better to give them money as opposed to charging them for their actions. So yes, carbon taxes raise the price of dirty electricity, if you choose to use it. But giving them your money via direct action is still higher electicity prices, just well hidden from general taxation revenue.

    • Ken Dyer

      I think why Labor do not attack Direct (in)action is because they cannot prove a negative. Greg Hunt is an absolute disgrace whose continued chicanery and hair splitting is dragging Australia down. Australia continues to have the highest per capita emissions in the world and Hunt has done NOTHING. He holds a 9% majority in Flinders so is in a safe seat, and, as it is an area of great privilege and wealth, likely to stay so. One can only hope that the Turnbull Government is defeated, or he will continue with the vandalisation of Australia and indeed, the rest of the world.

    • john

      Direct Action.
      If ever there was a smoke screen to hood wink this is it.
      Taking advantage of the state governments actions then making out it was the Federal Governments actions, what a total joke.
      Mean while the very underlying criteria they have used have proved to be absolutely unsubstantiated by the evidence.
      Evidence you ask?
      More removal of vegetation, that is trees that take up carbon.
      There is continual land clearing and further more no stopping it because state governments are not going to put a stop sign up.

    • solarguy

      Perhaps the term corporate welfare, would be more accurate. On the news last night, the COALaltion have already started their scare campaign of a carbon tax. That was foreseeable and what is also predictable is the unengaged public believing once again that, when electricity prices rise again and their going to rise this June, it will be the greedy gold plating of the networks responsible. Just as it was the case in the previous six years.
      The LNP will harp on this myth, to try and once again fool the public, before the new bills arrive. Labor need to counter this heavily.

  • BsrKr11

    This level of argument from Malcom Turnbull is beyond infuriating…on this issue and the NBN I have had enough of this man. Kick him and the dinosaurs he is clearly beholden to out of government!!

  • Nicko

    Yes, Turnbull is resorting to the scare campaign, as a born-again denier (OK, do-nothinger).

    I wonder if a journalist will ask him whether Whyalla will be wiped out and the cost of a leg of lamb? (One thing: can’t see it happening on the pathetic ABC.)

    PS Ken, ‘chicanery and hair splitting’ is right on the money, although I tend to use ruder words for the Hunt bullshit. That man has simply lost the ability not to try to deceive, and Turnbull, under pressure, is rapidly following him.

    • john

      NO no one will ask, why because they are morons in the media. oops bit harsh that rehash ” because they are not interested in doing the investigation it is too easy to just publish the hand out from the parties spokes person ”

  • Rob G

    In a strange way, Abbott’s polarising of the Carbon Tax fear may have helped voters accept that putting a price on carbon is the right thing to do. Thank you Tony, and if MT continues to puppet the right’s agenda he to will be relegating his PMship to history’s dustbin. Many Australians had hope MT would take CC seriously, but the more he talks about the more they understand that he is powerless to act. So long LNP!

    • Carl Raymond S

      In axing the tax, people have been pushed into taking the more direct approach of super fund divestment. Divest my friends, divest. Divestment scares the fossil fuel companies more than the carbon tax does – as it’s not limited to a fixed percentage – it could run away on them – a bit like climate change really.

  • john

    MT is hamstrung because his party is ideologically opposed to any use of new technology, exactly the same as when the first steam driven vehicle was put on a road where a person had to walk in front with a red flag on a pole.
    So look at the situation now the new technology threats the old technology from 1880 so lets put a red flag on a pole to stop it.
    When a new tech is better for society on every level get over it and implement end of story.
    Every level you ask?
    Long time cost down, externalization very much down.
    Which part is hard to understand ?

    • Cooma Doug

      They did the same with cars. They also proposed a disaster because horse dung was preventing a repeat of the bubonic plaegue.

  • Chris Fraser

    Noticed with interest Barnaby’s rushed condemnation of Labor. He will never be convincing as a part of the solution, and now he can’t empathise with the average farmer trying to manage their land.

  • howardpatr

    Turnbull – oh, you mean Mad Monk Abbott the Second.

    • john

      Yes rather sad

  • RobertVincin

    Emission Offset trading is a $160-600,000,000,000 p a meeting UNFCCC 100year rule written with Australia the most likely recipient. The Australian amendment at COP6 tabled by Hon Robert Hill reinforced Australia as global trader to offset industrial worlds emissions.

    Neither Australian Political Leader has any plan to establish, a new baseline income industry to replace the ailing mining manufacturing. The UN SG supports offset business taking CO2 and sequestering back into Mother Earth’s soil.

    Industrial world and anthropogenic desert nations are perpetually adding CO2 CH4 to the upper atmosphere at a rate equal to the Australia nations’ international debt. If leaders and Minister of environment comprehended Climate Change and CO2 Offsets Trading, Australia would eliminate its global debt by 2018! Well planned the income would be such as not to place any burden/tax on Australian emitting industries and public. Equally well planned the nation would create 200,000 new jobs and offset trade would also reduce national income tax.

    Applying the dedicated vegetation here in Australia as CO2 sinks the expanding soil would allow Australia to capture the global market of food shortages. CO2 offset trade will fund rebuilding the historical Australian Farming, grazing, forestry industry. This is the only business open to overcome Moody’s proposed dropping Australia’s AAA rating.

    Australian Politicians have but one think on their mind “re-election for 3/6 more years” not the wellbeing of the kids and grandkids. Ask your MP what plan do they have to create jobs income security and cast your vote accordingly. To me as a member of the original UN Kyoto Protocol authors team 1996-99 (pushing for Australia to be global CO2 sink) I very much doubt the PM understands CO2 offset trading or, is really interested. Without prejudice Robert Vincin (Vincin help UN Kyoto protocol and now to lower CO2 build up teaching leading other nations to grasp this UNFCCC 100yr perpetual income opportunity). Here is proof how simple it is. PRC will offset 8Billion tonnes CO2 meeting UNFCCC 100year rule https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbI8YZmBP8g

  • Brunel

    Solar panels are cheaper than ever so I think the voters will embrace a price on CO2.

    • Mike Dill

      Get PV on half the roofs, and there will not be a united constituency for the coal plants. I expect that this will take another five years, but some will see it coming. Storage is also about five years from the mainstream, and will finish killing the peaks that the ‘baseload’ generators need.

  • Suburbable

    The unfortunate thing is that scare campaigns work very well.

    • Chris Fraser

      Turnbull, Morrison and (i think) Joyce are meant to be more intelligent than Abbottage, so three-word slogans don’t have the same ring to them as before.

      • Suburbable

        Maybe a three worder like ‘Stop The Sun’

  • Robert Comerford

    Bill Shorten doesn’t help the case by calling these people ‘sceptics’. The opposition should call them what they are; ‘climate change denialists’.
    Sceptics are people like scientists who challenge their own findings.
    The Nationals are already out on local news today telling farmers they will have to pay up in spades for emissions trading.

    • Dispassionate

      I think most of the arguments on both sides go too far in claiming they are correct and their findings are beyond reproach. Saw an interesting Youtube clip from a geologist in regard to the changing temperature of the earth. If even a small part of this is correct then people thinking they can limit how much the temp changes is probably pretty silly in itself. Now before anyone jumps on the “you are a ‘climate change denialist'” bandwagon I am not saying we aren’t contributing I am simple exploring some of the evidence as I think everyone should and separating out the emotion. Rational answers and actions come from rational thought processes not emotional outbursts.