Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has offered an olive branch to the Morrison government on climate and clean energy industry, offering to embrace carbon capture and storage technologies, if it comes with additional funding support for renewable energy innovation.
In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Albanese outlined Labor’s position on clean energy research and development, and the need to invest in new technology innovation as part of the economic response to Covid-19 as well as the ongoing needs to tackle climate change.
“Even as we flatten the curve of the coronavirus, the curve of climate change is waiting for us. Returning to our pre-pandemic approach is not an option,” Albanese in his address to the press club.
“Consider this government’s rejection of fire experts who are predicting exactly what was coming and begging to be heard before the recent catastrophic bushfire season. There was no listening, there was no respect. But there was catastrophic bushfires. Meanwhile, droughts are going worse and temperature records are being broken.
“Energy policy paralysis and uncertainty has been a major contributor to the decline in business investment. It has resulted in higher costs for business. Removing this handbrake must be an important part of facilitating the economic recovery that is needed given we are in the first recession for three decades.”
Key to Labor’s proposal would be the adoption of an agreed framework for driving investment in low emissions technologies, that would allow for future emissions reduction targets to be ramped-up by future governments.
“It’s essential. It’s essential that targets be based upon the science and it needs to be a mechanism that has that flexibility there,” Albanese said.
“What I’m arguing for, though, is that you can agree on a framework and business say that they’ll factor in the potential of changes down the track. But that what they really need is that framework.”
It’s an olive-branch from the opposition leader, that seeks to find a middle ground on climate change and energy policy, that will see Labor support funding for carbon capture and storage technologies, along with ongoing investments in renewable energy technologies.
“Labor is willing to support carbon capture and storage technologies being able to generate carbon offsets as long as the usual quality safeguards are met. We would also support the government if it reinstates the CCS flagship program that was established by Labor with $177 million of funding and abolished by the Abbott government.”
However, there were some limits to Albanese’s offer, with Albanese rejecting any suggestion that dedicated clean energy agencies, including the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) should be modified to allow their investment mandates to be expanded to allow investments in carbon capture and storage projects.
“We won’t agree that renewable energy agencies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation should have their funds for renewables raided in order to invest in carbon capture technology. If we are to advance the technology roadmap, then ARENA must be supported with further funding,” Albanese said.
RenewEconomy understands that the Morrison cabinet is actively preparing to consider proposals to provide additional funding to ARENA, with legislation to be put to Parliament before the end of the year, but this funding would come with the lifting of restrictions that prevent the agencies from investing in carbon capture and storage technologies.
With the battle lines drawn, it is likely to set up a showdown between the Morrison government and the Labor opposition over the future of ARENA.
Albanese also reiterated Labor’s opposition to the Morrison government’s controversial plan to use surplus Kyoto protocol permits to meet Australia’s emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, labelling the plan a “rort”.
The opposition leader also confirmed that Labor remained committed to setting interim emissions reduction targets before 2050, but would not specify what those targets may be, or whether the party remained committed to the 45 per cent by 2030 reduction target it took to the 2019 federal election.
Albanese wrote to prime minister Scott Morrison ahead of the press club speech, saying that he saw positive opportunities in the technology roadmap launched by the government in May, and wanted to work cooperatively towards its implementation.
“We have an opportunity to move beyond past partisan approaches to energy policy, to draw on the community’s clear desire for more bipartisan approaches to difficult policy areas, and to finally deliver an enduring, effective and bipartisan energy policy for Australia,” Albanese said in the letter.
“This draft Technology Roadmap is largely a factual document that presents a technology transition story that is largely consistent with pas Labor policy and expert advice. 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 many years.”
Campaigning group GetUp welcomed Albanese’s calls for two agencies that provide the core financial support for renewables at a federal level, the CEFC and ARENA, to maintain their dedicated focus on clean energy.
“Maintaining the integrity of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a vital step for any government to hasten our transition to renewable energy,” GetUp national director Paul Oosting said.
“Labor should rule out any support for expansion of the polluting gas industry as part of its bid for a bipartisan energy policy, and push for more ambitious emission targets,” Oosting added.
These sentiments were echoed by Greenpeace Australia, which expressed disappointment that the Federal Labor party appeared set to embrace support carbon capture and storage.
“Instead of co-opting ARENA & CEFC for gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS), the Morrison Government must heed the advice of leading economists, scientists and policy experts around the world calling for renewables to be at the heart of the economic recovery,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesperson Elizabeth Sullivan said.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Labor Party has waved the white flag on the mad scientist fantasy of carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS has never been viable anywhere in the world at scale and Australia alone has already thrown away more than $1 billion chasing the carbon capture and storage pipe dream.”