Labor is about to set out on another painful process to try and seek an agreed climate and energy deal with the federal Coalition government, suggesting it is willing to compromise on targets as long as it can settle on an agreed but scaleable emissions reduction mechanism.
In a letter sent to prime minister Scott Morrison, ahead of a planned National Press Club address on Wednesday, Albanese praises the much-maligned “technology roadmap” unveiled by energy minister Angus Taylor in May, describing it as a “largely factual” document.
Albanese declares support for carbon capture and storage, and says almost everything is open for negotiation. The main exception is nuclear, and Labor is also insisting on ongoing support for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which is soon to run out of funds, and for a emissions reduction mechanism that can accommodate different views on emissions targets.
“Agreements on targets is not necessary to deliver an enduring national energy policy and investor certainty,” Albanese writes.
Albanese’s strategy appears to hope that by not having a target it will not become a target. Labor has effectively dumped its 2030 emissions reduction target of a 45 per cent cut from 2005 levels, arguing that the country has run out of time to meet such an ambition.
Albanese, in an appearance on ABC Radio National on Wednesday morning, also appeared ready to go soft on Labor’s zero emissions target by 2050 – which the Morrison has refused to endorse, even though it is the formal position of every state and territory – saying, “let’s put that to one side.”
Later, in the press club address, Albanese said Labor’s would not re-issue interim targets until it could assess what the current Coalition government has achieved. He also re-iterated Labor’s commitment to zero emissions by 2050 and to the “science”. The “science” of 1.5°C requires zero emissions closer to 2040. Zero emissions targets for either date require significant reductions in the interim.
Taylor’s technology roadmap, and the Coalition’s new three-word mantra of “technology not taxes” has been widely derided largely because it does not have a target, either short term or long term, and does not provide a policy signal to investors and business.
The roadmap is dominated by its discredited insistence of the greater role that gas must play as a “transition fuel”, and CCS, and downplays the opportunities identified by the CSIRO, the Australian Energy Market Operator, and numerous agencies and other experts, of the huge reduction in emissions that can be delivered by wind, solar and storage over the next 20 years.
“The draft technology roadmap is largely a factual document that presents a technology transition story that is largely consistent with past Labor policy and expert advice,” Albanese writes.
“It makes the case that renewable energy will be at the centre of Australia’s energy and industrial future, a view that has been advocated by myself and my party for years.”
But that leaves the obvious question of scale and ambition. If the experts – the CSIRO, AEMO and numerous others – have mapped out a pathway to get to 90 per cent cut in emissions by around 2040, why not simply embrace what the experts are saying? And there is no doubting what the climate experts are saying – those type of targets are absolutely essential to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The federal Coalition has already accepted that the 50 per cent renewables target by 2030 that Labor put forward in the last election – and which the Coalition insisted would result in economic ruin – will be reached anyway, even without a target or a federal mechanism.
Imagine what could be achieved if the policy – along with the regulations and the rule-makings – allowed a clear path for a higher target? The Coalition is now talking about clean technologies, but it can barely bring itself to mention the words “wind” and “solar” in a positive context. Its focus, drawn from the Minerals Council of Australia playbook, is all about CCS and nuclear.
Labor says it won’t budge on its opposition to nuclear, but is ready to support CCS – and by implication the extension of life for the country’s ageing coal fleet – by backing any direct government funding as along as it is not through ARENA or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the use of credits in the emissions reduction fund.
“Labor will not seek a specific model for a bipartisan energy policy investment framework,” Albanese wrote.
“We are not calling for the return of the NEG, or the Clean Energy Target, or any other specific model. However, to ensure the framework is enduring in the context of future scientific advice it must be scaleable to different emission reduction targets by future governments.”
Future scientific advice? Why not grab the current scientific advice which is absolutely clear. Australia must reach zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest, and that means getting on with the job now. Scientists say that the next 10 years is critical to ensure future emissions are not locked in. Even the moribund International Energy Agency understands that.
Why not stand on scientific principles, even if it means establishing a clear point of difference? Why not, as Labor MP Josh Burns wrote in RenewEconomy this week, point to the fantastic investment, jobs and emissions reduction opportunities from a massive push into renewables – for both domestic and the export markets?
Albanese, however, appears determined not to make himself the target. He hopes that putting pressure for a “scaleable deal” from opposition, without specific targets, will force the government to act. The history of the past 12 years, when climate and energy policy has been used as a wedge by one side against the other, and the position of the current government does not bode well.
Even the Coalition couldn’t miss with this one. “This reminds me about that Groucho Marx saying, ‘Well if you don’t like these principles I’ve got others,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Wednesday, before trotting out the “technology not taxes” slogan. This from a party whose first principle is to ignore the science, and whose members largely reject it out of hand.