The Australian Labor Party will announce its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today.
The 2016 2019Labor promised net zero emission by 2050 and a 45% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 in its election. One of the promises it made to get there in 2019 was a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030.
It lost those elections. Labor has so far refused to reveal the policies it will adopt for the 2022 election. We should know by the end.
The Coalition’s position is clear – sort of.
Officially, the government will continue to stick with its long-established position of delivering a reduction of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030 (as a net zero by 2050)
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is making a bet that the government will do better. As he stated on November 15:
We aim to reduce our emissions by 35% by 2030. That is what we’re going to achieve. That’s what matters. It is what you actually accomplish that matters. We have achieved our goal.
Labor, which has a stronger stance on the issue than the Coalition, is left with three options.
Targets, predictions, and safeguards
Option 1 is to match 35% but make it a formal target and not a prediction.
Option 2 is to go a little higher with a prediction – say 40% – and claim this is achievable given announced Labor policies such as electric vehicles and upgrading the electricity grid (“rewiring the nation”).
Option 3 is set a more ambitious target – perhaps 45%, as Labor did at the last election, along with a change to the so-called “safeguard mechanism” introduced by the CoalitionIn 2016, as part of its alternative price on carbon.
The safeguard mechanism requires Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters to keep their net emissions below a certain cap.
The government’s net-zero modelling shows winners, we’ve found losers
Labor proposed that the 2019 election lower the threshold for carbon dioxide emissions from 100,000 to 25,000 tonnes per year and expand the limit to other emitters.
The difference between 2019 and now is that the approach is supported by the business community.
In fact, the Business Council of Australia’s climate planThis is exactly what the publication, October 2021, aims to do.
There are many dangers
Each option has its own pitfalls. Option 1 appears weak and gives the government a pass on climate. It’s hard for Labor politicians to campaign on the government not doing enough if they aren’t willing to do more themselves.
Option 2 (perhaps the most likely): A hedge: Labor will do less because it cares more about the planet than it does because of politics.
Option 3 is the most brave of the targets. It’s a bigger number that would make for more meaningful change. It also has air coverage through the Business Council of Australia.
But it’s also the option taken to the last election, which Labor lost. It’s possible that it was due to other factors, such as the retiree taxes, but it still seems politically dangerous.
There is no talk of a carbon price
Labor is unlikely to adopt a carbon price as an option.
That’s the best way to balance what’s good about emissions (economic growth and development) with what’s bad about emissions (climate change).
This has been off the table with Labor since it lost government in 2013 – in no small part due to Tony Abbott exploiting the issue with his “great big tax” campaigning.
A funny thing happened on the road to the 2022 elections. The Coalition had inserted a carbon price into its plan a few months ago.
As The Conversation’s Peter Martin put it, the plan assumed emissions reductions “the same as what would be expected if Australians faced a carbon price (or tax) that climbed to A$24 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050”.
Angus Taylor, Energy Minister is not being very stealthy if he tries hiding this.
How government modelling found net-zero would leave us better off
Page 6 government document outlining the modelling and analysis behind the plan acknowledges it models voluntary emissions reductions “as an abatement incentive which is taken up across the economy and rises to $24/t CO2-e in 2050”.
It says behaving “as if” there was a carbon price of A$24 per tonne in place would get emissions down by 85%.
To bring them down to net zero, it would be necessary an even higher carbon price: about A$80 per tonne on the model’s logic.
Labor could learn from Coalition
So why doesn’t Labor do what it knows to be right – announce a price on carbon? It could say it will start at the government’s own figure of $24/tonne, and take any needed subsequent increases to future elections.
That won’t happen on Friday. Or anytime soon. We should ask ourselves why.