While Labor’s 2019 Climate Acton Plan has been completely rewritten compared to the plan they took to the 2016 election the target of 45% emissions reductions (from 2005) by 2030 remains the same. I can’t recall whether they espoused zero emissions by 2050, as they do now, I think it may have been 90%. Their overall strategy is, I think, based on six considerations.
Firstly, Labor acknowledges the cost of doing nothing:
- Failure to act on climate change will expose the Australian people and environment to devastating costs for our economy, society, security, health and environment. Experts at the ANU, University of Melbourne and CSIRO estimate failing to keep global warming to below two degrees will eventually cost the average Australian household $14,000 per year.
Secondly, they say:
- Labor accepts the science of climate change and endorses the Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius as well as a more qualified commitment around a 1.5 degree threshold.
It is not at all clear what their attitude to 1.5°C is. I take it to mean that they are mindful of the desirability of taking on board the need to stay below 1.5°C. However, their plan would have no credibility in achieving such a goal, and they probably think that doing what would be necessary would scare the horses. In other words, they think 1.5°C is not currently politically doable.
Third, at the end of their document we find what is arguably the most exciting part. They are going to restore and reform the Climate Change Authority (CCA) and under the supervision of that organisation undertake a triennial Australian Climate Change Assessment (ACCA). They say:
- In order to inform policy, and ensure Australian business, government, and communities are equipped to address the impacts of climate change, Australia needs a comprehensive, independent,scientific, and Australia focussed assessment of likely climate change impacts over the next years and decades. It is impossible to properly plan for the impacts of climate change if we do not have Australian focussed assessments of what those impacts are likely to be under plausible scenarios.
Although the Abbott government failed in its attempt to destroy the Climate Change Authority (CCA), it is not funded enough to do anything much. Also the Coalition government took no notice of it, so its last scientist, Prof David Karoly, followed Prof Clive Hamilton, Prof John Quiggin and Danny Price out the door in July 2017.
It is interesting to note that in the CCA 2014 paper International climate action: priorities for the next agreement we find on p. 23:
- In its Targets and Progress Review, the Authority recommended a range of 40–60 per cent below 2000 levels for Australia in 2030. This range related to the Authority’s view of what would represent a fair international contribution by Australia to global efforts to keep warming below 2 degrees, and could be achieved while maintaining rising living standards and economic growth. (Emphasis added)
A letter from the Chairman, Bernie Fraser, in August 2015, said:
- If the Authority’s recommendations were converted to a 2005 base they would imply … a 2030 range of 45 to 63 per cent.
Labor adopted the bottom of this range, the Greens chose the top.
After the Paris agreement the CCA talks of keeping temperature “well below” 2°C, and note in it’s Special Review that the Paris Agreement process includes a ratcheting up of ambition every five years, with the first due in 2022. It’s unthinkable that a revived CCA supervising a comprehensive Australian Climate Change Assessment, would not recommend more ambitious targets and more urgent action, given IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Labor does not plan to use carry-over credits from Kyoto. Ben Potter explains that Australia’s use of such credits perhaps does not matter much to the world, but if every country that has credits followed suit the aims of the Paris Agreement would be destroyed.
Fourth, Labor is genuinely looking for bipartisanship and trying to provide some policy continuity. For this reason, I think, they have chosen to go with the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), which appeared to have broad support from stakeholders and interested parties. It is important to note that the future of the National Energy Market is a responsibility of the COAG Energy Council, not of the Australian Government. The NEG remains an agenda item for the Energy Security Board (ESB), which is a function of the COAG Energy Council.
The Australian Government is one equal partner on all COAG councils, which operate by consensus. The NEG may have been abandoned by public announcement by the Turnbull and Morrison governments, but has not been formally killed off where it matters.
Fifth, climate change is a multi-faceted issue involving many stakeholders and interested parties. Labor intends to act in a consultative way, setting up many inquiries. This is not understood by Adam Bandt and the Greens, whose modus operandi appears to be to put some words on a blank sheet of paper and then make a pronouncement. So Bandt should not be surprised that his description of Labor policies as a “dogs breakfast” would be seen as arrogant and insulting. However, it does highlight the difficulties a Labor government would likely have in the senate.
I was pleased that Richard di Natale’s budget commentary highlighted the government’s complete lack of attention to climate change.
Sixth, Last November a speech by Bill Shorten makes clear that Labor is adopting and re-badging the National Energy Guarantee and is seeking bipartisanship. This is crucial:
We will implement a 10-year Energy Investment Plan, to drive and attract investment, to lower prices, to cut pollution and create jobs.
Labor’s plan will underpin investor confidence by providing a long-term policy roadmap to achieve our 2030 renewable energy and emissions reductions targets.
Our investment plan will be guided by experts, using the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan as an energy modernisation blueprint.
We will use a range of tools to invest in projects and underwrite contracts for clean power generation, as well as firming technologies like storage and gas.
These mechanisms could include concessional loans, equity and ‘contract for difference’ auction schemes that are used in other jurisdictions.(Emphasis added)
The speech also makes reference to policies on gas, which got left out the Climate Action Plan as such, and presents arguments as to why there should be no fear campaign on electricity prices.
Below I’ll try to identify the entities Labor plans to set up or revive, proposed inquiries and plans then comment briefly of the issues of the Safeguard Mechanism and emissions intensive trade exposed industries (EITEs), and electric vehicles and agriculture, then finish some concluding remarks.
Entities, inquires and plans
- Restore and reform the Climate Change Authority (CCA) – $24 million over the forward estimates.
- Undertake a triennial Australian Climate Change Assessment (ACCA) – $5 million provided
- Double the original investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) by $10 bn to support new generation and storage, concessional loans for household purchases of solar and battery systems, commercial community renewables projects and the transformation and growth of new and existing industries.
- Future-proof our energy networks by creating a $5 bn independent Energy Security and Modernisation Fund to upgrade Australia’s energy transmission and distribution systems, including linking Renewable Energy Zones.
- Target one million household battery systems by 2025 and providing a $2,000 rebate for 100,000 households on incomes of less than $180,000 per year to purchase and install battery systems, as well as low-cost loans for households.
- Establish a Neighbourhood Renewables Program for renters and social housing residents and establish community power hubs to support the development of projects in local communities – such as solar gardens on apartment rooftops, community wind farms and energy efficiency upgrades for social housing.
- Develop a Bioenergy Strategy to boost the development of this important industry in Australia – $2 million over the forward estimates.
- Kickstart Australia’s Hydrogen Economy with a $1 billion plan, with a hub based in Gladstone.
- Re-instate an Australian Climate Ambassador to re-engage constructively in the UNFCCC process and support our Pacific neighbours.
- Establish an independent Just Transition Authority (JTA) to plan and coordinate the adjustment to the closure of coal-fired power stations, working with companies, workers, unions, local communities, state government – $8.5 million over the forward estimates.
- Adopt a target of 50 per cent new car sales by 2030, with 50 per cent of government cars being EV by 2025, leading by using EVs in government fleets and installing charging facilities in government building car parks. Work with COAG to improve the coordination of EV take-up and related infrastructure planning, requiring all federally funded road upgrades to incorporate EV charging infrastructure, working with states to ensure new and refurbished commercial and residential developments include EV charging capacity, promote national standards for EV charging infrastructure and ensuring investment in public charging stations meet these standards.
- Introduce vehicle emissions standards in line with US standards of 105g CO2/km for light vehicles, consistent with Climate Change Authority advice, and consulting on the phase-in timeline and coverage to maximise savings for motorists.
- Grow private EV fleets by allowing businesses to immediately deduct 20 per cent off any new EV valued at more than $20,000 through The Australian Investment Guarantee.
- Develop a Low Emission Transport Strategy to inform future policy development across transport more broadly, including maritime, aviation, rail and heavy vehicles.
- Invest in public transport by upgrading and expanding the passenger rail networks in Brisbane (Cross River Rail), Sydney (Western Sydney Rail and Western Metro), Melbourne (Monash Rail and Frankston to Baxter Rail Upgrade), Canberra (Light Rail – Stage 2)and Perth (METRONET).
- The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) will be terminated, but Labor will review and strengthen the Carbon Farming Initiative, making the creation of offsets smoother, and boosting scheme integrity to ensure real pollution cuts by establishing a Carbon Assessment Standard, a certification framework to mature the offset market and facilitate more efficient, low-cost abatement. Labor will allocate $1.5 million over the forward estimates. There will be $40 million over forward estimates to boost carbon farming methodology research and development.
- Labor will work with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to help it meet its objective to be carbon neutral by 2030 by developing a Strategic Meat Industry plan, with funding of $2 million over the forward estimates.
- Labor will extend the Queensland broad-scale land clearing regime to the rest of the country. Labor will build new tools and maps that help landholders understand if they are required to consider the federal land clearing protections, with $8 million provided over the forward estimates.
- Labor will develop and deliver a National Forestry Summit and a National Forestry Strategic Plan, to support the growth of a more sustainable and prosperous forestry industry.
- Labor will extend the Government’s Safeguard Mechanism to reduce pollution for Australia’s biggest polluters by including all polluters emitting 25,000 tonnes or more compared to the present 100,000 tonnes, with the aim of reducing total pollution by covered entities by 45 per cent (on 2005) levels by 2030. Labor will consult with industry and experts on this threshold and its phase-in. Tailored treatment will be provided for emissions intensive trade exposed industries (EITEs) to ensure they face comparable impacts from climate change policies as their competitors do in relevant international markets. Electricity will be exempted and covered in Labor’s National Energy Plan (which I can’t find in their platform).
- Labor will address the energy efficiency issue by (a) allowing and encouraging ARENA and the CEFC to finance energy efficiency projects, (b) establishing a Manufacturing Energy Efficiency Accelerator program (MEEA) with one thousand $20,000 grants for Australian manufacturers over four years to 2022-23 to engage experts to provide advice to manufacturers (c) developing an accreditation system for energy auditors and training programs for manufacturers, with a commitment of $10 million of funding support over four years to 2022-23, and (d) revitalise energy efficiency reforms at COAG:
- Labor will commit up to $10 million over four years to 2022-23 for an Energy Affordability and Productivity Review that will enhance COAG’s National Energy Productivity Plan, reform energy efficiency governance, support the harmonisation state based Energy Efficiency Obligation schemes, and revitalise COAG’s efforts to introduce a National Home Comfort Rating System.
- Labor will re-institute and re-badge the position of Climate Change Ambassador with a special focus on the Pacific region, where climate change will be given priority in Labor’s international development program.
Safeguard Mechanism and emissions intensive trade exposed industries (EITEs)
Giles Parkinson points out that under the Coalition government the big polluters were essentially self-regulating, because emissions increased by 17% on their watch, and were forecast to go higher. So of course they are whingeing about the prospect of a fair dinkum regime.
Then there is the question of offsets. Labor says:
- Labor will make it easier for covered businesses to meet any offset obligations by allowing for the creation (and sale) of offsets if emissions fall below baselines, allowing for the (limited) use of international offsets, and exploring the option of allowing offsets to be generated in the electricity sector, boosting offset supply through Carbon Farming revitalisation reforms.
- The Morrison government went on the political offensive immediately, likening the measures to a carbon “tax”. The prime minister claimed Labor’s beefed-up pollution requirements for big emitters would force companies to purchase international carbon credits, “sending money offshore to foreign carbon traders – carbon credits from Kazakhstan”.
The Greens’ climate spokesman, Adam Bandt, used similar language to Morrison: “We cannot outsource our emissions reduction obligations to a pig farm in Ukraine.”
Bandt said international offsets were “fake action because Australian polluters will buy overseas permits from other countries but keep polluting at home. International offsets delay climate action in Australia. More coal will be burnt at home and the transition to 100% renewables will be delayed”.
- The shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, said the government needed to explain why it supported Australian businesses trading in international markets, but not international carbon markets.
“What we need are cuts in pollution, whether they are from the Australian carbon farming sector or overseas robust credible markets or the electricity sector – the important thing is for cuts in pollution to be achieved … in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible,” Butler said.
The Government was in full scare campaign, by saying the trading element was a trojan horse for a carbon tax and offshore offsets would result in $35 billion (think of a number, but I understand $35 per tonne is the present EU price) going to offshore charlatans.
Labor’s electric vehicle policy ran into early trouble because it would mandate that car dealers implement the emissions policy by ensuring the average emissions of the cars they sold would meet the nominated standard. This was held to be impractical, and was rapidly withdrawn.
Agriculture was exempted from the scheme to limit major polluters through the Safeguard Mechanism. However, Labor’s plans will affect farming and grazing through developing a carbon reduction plan with the Meat and Livestock Australia, the vegetation management regime extension and the Carbon Farming Initiative.
Back in 2007 the Queensland Labor government undertook a study of the Queensland grazing industry, and found it carbon neutral when the effects of vegetation management legislation were taken into account. Greenies and Greens, however, want to accept the benefits of vegetation management on behalf of the planet rather than allow any of the benefits accrue to the people producing them.
Queensland vegetation management has been the major factor allowing Australia’s record on climate mitigation to have a veneer of respectability.
I knew more about the issue back in the days of Beattie and Bligh, before 2012 when Campbell Newman rescinded the laws, which then triggered a spike in panic clearing. The Palaszczuk government was unable to re-institute the regime until her second term because she needed Katter Party support and/or the support of Far North Queensland independents. She claims she now has the balance right, but the greens and the Greens are happy, the landholders not.
The pre-2012 regime was seen as, and I think was, extremely hostile towards landholders, breached notions of natural justice and administrative fairness, and almost led to a shooting war on propertties at times. As a disclaimer, back then my elder brother chaired Property Rights Australia, a body established with a fighting fund to mount legal challenges to the most egregious instances of maladministration of hostile laws. Now a burning issue is farm invasion of feedlots by animal rights advocates.
On the other hand my daughter was a long-time vegetarian, now eats meat caught in the wild.
So mostly, I listen and ask questions.
Someone should write a book about it.
Tackling climate change across the economy is a multi-faceted business, and we need to start from where we are rather than a clean sheet of paper. And in the medium term, rather than the long-term we are going to need a full-scale assault on the problem, which will require a social licence and bipartisan support.
I’m impressed with the amount of thought that has gone into Labor’s policy. I think it offers our best chance of doing something meaningful within the next five years.
The Greens reaction could hardly be more derogatory, as per their media release. Here are some choice extracts:
“There are a couple of good ideas here, but overall this is a dog’s breakfast of Liberal party leftovers, with no plan for coal and no hope of meeting the Paris Agreement goals,” said Mr Bandt.
“The Liberals love coal and Labor won’t say its name, but without a plan to transition out of coal, we will not meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.”
“I’m desperate to turf to the conservatives out, but I’m bitterly disappointed Labor isn’t taking the climate emergency seriously, hoping that being only slightly less bad that [sic] the Liberals will be enough to get them elected.”
“This announcement shows why you need Greens in Parliament. The Greens will work towards a change of government then, in the Senate, toughen up Labor’s poorly cobbled-together patchwork of Liberal party policy rejects.”
- “Labor is still jumping at Tony Abbott’s shadow, unwilling to put together a coherent economy-wide climate policy at the very time the public mood has shifted in favor of strong action and a carbon price.”
To the Greens it seems any policy that doesn’t have an economy-wide carbon price as a centrepiece is rubbish. Moerover, I don’t know where the opinion polling is to support the notion that an economy-wide carbon price matches the public mood.
If Labor made exiting coal mining into a central plank they would hand the Coalition a gift scare campaign about jobs and economic irresponsibility, as well as start a war with some of the unions. A second term election is the time for such a policy.
Labor wants to see the EITEs stay in Australia. I recall cement maker Adelaide Brighton assuring shareholders in 2011 that climate policy represented no threat to the company because it could always move offshore. They would do it in a heartbeat. I suspect a modest use of offshore credits may make the difference in some cases.
Lindsey Tanner this week told Tom Switzer about the internal review conducted by The Greens after the 2004 election, when the Greens lost votes compared to 2001. Essentially it said “We are not in the business of taking votes off the Coalition, we are in the business of taking votes off Labor.” The Greens intent is the destroy and replace Labor, he says.
Adam Bandt replaced Lindsey Tanner when he resigned in 2010 and now has a primary vote of 43% to make his seat safe in the mid 50s with Labor preferences. Essentially he has in that seat destroyed Labor and replaced them.
It’s a pity that in their reaction to Labor’s policy The Greens have shown themselves as political as any other party, and more political than their ‘enemy’ who is trying to develop policy that is electable and implementable. In denigrating Labor’s policy so enthusiastically Bandt is in effect advancing the cause of Scott Morrison’s re-election.
The Greens policy Renew Australia may be downloaded here. It’s an interesting document but of little practical relevance. Others will be formulating the policies that move Australia forward.
Frank Jotzo’s article in response to Shorten’s November speech puts Labor’s policy in a better perspective. However, the differences between the Paris target, Labor’s plans and those of the Coalition from the Investors Group on Climate Change (from the Potter article):
Labor’s plan is not far off the mark, and as I explained, would be bound for upgrading on advice from the revived CCA and the national audit. Bandt would have us believe that there is negligible difference between major party plans. To me that is ignorance, or, more likely, dishonest.
Shorten says that if elected he would want to sit down with the leader of the opposition to seek consensus on climate change action. Bandt’s speech makes it difficult for Labor in government to sit down with The Greens.