Public concern over climate change was a clear factor in the election of Australia’s new Labor government. Incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has committed to action on the issue, declaring on Saturday night: “Together we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower”.
Following Labor’s win, frontbencher Richard Marles said the new government would stick to the climate policies it took to the election. But it’s not yet clear if Labor can form a majority in the lower house, or will rely on support from the teal independents and Greens MPs – all of whom campaigned heavily for stronger climate action.
Monique Ryan, a new Kooyong independent, is one of a number of pro-climate teal MPPs. SundayIf a minority Labor government moves further on climate policy, including increasing its 2030 emissions target, she will work with it. Other crossbenchers will likely take a similar stance.
Labor’s climate and energy policies provide an important foundation for progress. There are still some areas of the economy that need more attention. What could the next parliament do to address climate change?
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Saturday’s federal poll was the first where Australia had a national commitment to net-zero emissions. The task of normalizing the target within government and across economy and accelerating real-world emissions reductions was up to the winner of the election.
Australia pledged to become net-zero under the Morrison government by 2050. But Our researchCSIRO and Australia could achieve this goal by 2035, according to a joint study.
Such a target would be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃. It would also unlock our competitive advantage in a net-zero world – one where we can be a major player in exporting green energy and other low-emissions commodities.
Labor’s Powering AustraliaBased on 2005 levels of emissions, this plan would reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% before 2030.
Analyse shows Labor’s proposed target, while far more ambitious than the previous government’s, is consistent with 2℃ of global warming. This is not yet in line with the Paris Agreement goal for “well below” 2℃ warming.
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Labor in minority government would be under pressure from the crossbench for a stronger 2030 goal. Zali Steggall, Incumbent Warringah, is calling for at minimum 60% reduction in emissions by 2030. The Greens are pushing for even higher levels.
Greens and teal independents are aligned with Labor on legislating Australia’s net-zero emissions target and reinvigorating institutions such as the Climate Change Authority.
Steggall and other supporters of the climate change bill in the previous parliament are more comprehensive. It would ProvideLegislate time frames for climate change action, and implement a process to make sure targets are in line scientifically.
The teals are likely to support Labor’s plans to standardise company reporting on matters such as climate risk and emissions. This will bring Australia into line with international best practice and provide significant benefits.
So too will Labor’s commitment to net-zero emissions in the federal public service by 2030, which will stimulate demand for low-carbon goods and services.
Labor government should address the gap by creating roadmaps for net-zero in key sectors and regions. These could be integrated into Labor’s proposed National Reconstruction Fund, and should be devised in collaboration with the states and industry, as well as communities and workers affected by the global shift to net-zero.
The electricity sector produces about one-third of Australia’s emissions. Labor and the teals both ran for the election with the goal of renewable energy making up 80% by 2030. That is about the pace of change that is needed.
This will be possible thanks to two major new Labor Policies.
Rewiring America: A$20 Billion in new electricity transmission infrastructure. If the investment is done well, it will result in further private investment
Powering the Regions: investments in ultra-low-cost solar banks, community battery systems and energy efficiency improvements in existing industries.
Yet more must be done – for example, more planning and new energy market rules. These measures will ensure that the future energy system is not larger than it should be and that zero-emissions energy is produced by 2035 at a minimum cost.
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Spotlight on industry
The Greens and teals want to halve emissions from Australia’s industrial sector by 2030. Labor’s current plans for industry aren’t that specific – and a crossbench with the balance of power is likely to pressure Labor in this area.
Labor’s policies on industry emissions comprise two main building blocks:
National Reconstruction Fund: $3 billion from the fund will aid industry’s low-carbon transition, including for manufacturing of green metals such as steel and aluminium
a revised “safeguard mechanism” requiring big polluters to reduce emissions.
Australia’s energy-intensive industries are already planning their response to shifting global markets. These industries require labor to manage the change at the necessary pace and scale.
A wider transport plan
In transport, Labor has proposed removing taxes and duties on lower-cost electric vehicles – making them cheaper – and adopting Australia’s first electric vehicle strategy.
The party has already pledged to ensure that 75% of new Commonwealth fleet cars will be low- or zero-emissions by 2025. The teals want 76% to be electric by 2030. The Greens would also PushFor a stronger electric vehicle policy.
Labor will also take steps to establish high-speed rail on Australia’s east coast. Its transport policy does not end there. It could do more to promote public and active transport as well as reduce carbon emissions in freight and aviation.
A broader transport strategy – especially involving infrastructure planning and investment – would help the transport sector move towards net-zero.
Eliminating emissions from buildings
Labor’s Housing Australia Future FundWhile it is rightly focused upon building new affordable and social housing, net-zero is not on its agenda. All governments have agreed to a zero-carbon buildings trajectory – now it’s time the federal government worked proactively with the states to achieve this.
The National Construction Code’s upcoming review will allow for higher energy performance standards in new buildings.
However, existing homes and business premises need to be looked at. Many Australians would benefit from a package of regulations and funds to encourage electrification and energy performance improvements. This would result in lower energy bills and better health outcomes.
A sustainable land sector
Labor policies will support innovation and agriculture, including reducing methane from livestock and other opportunities for carbon farming. Crossbench support will also be available for increased tree plantation and soil carbon storage. There will also more spending on low-carbon technologies and practices in agriculture.
Under Australia’s carbon credit scheme, landholders are granted carbon credits for activities such as retaining and growing vegetation. Serious QuestionsThere have been concerns about the integrity and fairness of the scheme. This should be addressed by the new government.
Many of Australia’s natural systems, such as rivers and other ecosystems, are Stressed or at the brink of failure. The land sector is both a contributor to this alarming trend, and can be part the solution. However, it will be severely affected if the problems don’t get addressed.
Many farmers have made changes to their farming practices in response the climate and environmental threats. The new government should make a plan to place the land sector within a wider environmental context. This would ensure that the sector takes advantage of investment opportunities, and plays its part to create a sustainable future.
This plan would also help Australian agriculture increase its share of global food exports in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world.
We need a bolder and bigger vision
The new Labor government has three years to steer Australia in a world that expects – and badly needs – every nation to take rapid climate action across the economy.
Australians voted to elect a parliament that will pursue a stronger climate action agenda. Beyond the headline measures, more will be required.
All Australians have the responsibility to shape and implement these changes, and ensure that Australia not only survives but thrives in a warmer environment.
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