Anthony Albanese will set an emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 and boost the share of renewables in the national electricity market to 82% if Labor wins the coming federal election.
The ALP leader has unveiled Labor’s most electorally risky policy commitment since the 2019 election defeat, declaring a more ambitious target would spur $76bn in investment and reduce average annual household power bills by $275 in 2025 and $378 in 2030.
Guardian Australia revealed on Friday the shadow cabinet had signed off on a 43% target, which is lower than the 45% medium term target Labor promised at the 2019 election, but higher than the Morrison government’s Abbott-era commitment of a 26-28% cut on 2005 levels.
The primary mechanism Labor will use to reduce emissions faster than current projections will be the Coalition’s existing safeguard mechanism. Improvements to that scheme are expected to deliver emissions reductions of 213Mt by 2030.
Ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, the Business Council of Australia urged the Morrison government to overhaul the existing safeguard mechanism, including reducing baselines to drive an orderly transition to net zero by 2050. The government rejected that proposal, but Labor has adopted it as a core component of its policy.
The safeguard mechanism currently applies to 215 of Australia’s heaviest polluters – businesses that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gasses.
The shadow climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said Labor would overhaul the scheme but not extend coverage to new entities – and businesses will also be permitted to use offsets to achieve their emissions reductions. Bowen said Labor would not subject any Australian trade-exposed business to any more onerous climate regulation than their international competitors.
In electricity, Labor will significantly upgrade transmission infrastructure to hasten the transition to renewables, invest in solar banks and install 400 community batteries. These measures are projected to see renewables make up 82% of power generation in Australia’s national electricity market by 2030, instead of 68% under current projections.
Albanese has dumped a 2019 pledge to introduce more efficient fuel standards to reduce transport emissions – a policy the Coalition falsely badged as a “war on the weekend”. But Labor will remove import tariffs and the fringe benefits tax from electric cars below the luxury car tax threshold to drive consumer take-up of electric vehicles, and will develop a more comprehensive EV strategy if it wins in 2022.
The policy commitments were accompanied by modelling by market analysts Reputex. The analysis says Labor’s transition plan will generate 604,000 direct and indirect jobs compared to a business-as-usual scenario, include $24bn in new public investment, and drive 440Mt of emissions reductions between 2023 and 2030.
The Morrison government limbered up for another scare campaign on the higher 2030 target before the policy was unveiled.
Scott Morrison – who attempted unsuccessfully to boost his own 2030 target before being thwarted by the National party – declared on Friday that Labor’s 43% target was not a “safe” transition for workers in the Hunter Valley, or in the Queensland regional city of Gladstone, or for manufacturing jobs.
While the major parties now agree Australia should reach net zero emissions by 2050, and current emissions projections indicate Australia will cut emissions by 35% by 2030, the Coalition will continue to use Labor’s higher medium-term ambition as a political weapon in seats in Queensland and regional New South Wales.
Bowen told reporters in Canberra on Friday he expected the Coalition to lie about Labor’s policy. “These guys are liars, and they will continue to lie,” he said.
“We are up for a good strong debate about Australia’s future”.
Albanese said the pre-emptive strike showed the prime minister will just “attack anything”. He said it suggested the government was “out of puff”.
“We see a government that doesn’t have a plan for today, let alone any concept of a vision for tomorrow,” the Labor leader said.
Labor’s policy was largely welcomed by stakeholders. The Business Council of Australia said it was “sensible and workable”. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was “encouraging to see updated 2030 targets that push the frame towards more ambitious action on climate change”.
The Climate Council welcomed the target but urged Labor to strengthen ambition.
“Right now, our country is the worst-performing of all developed countries when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and moving beyond fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas,” said Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie. “Labor’s plan is a major improvement, but it will need to be strengthened significantly to genuinely tackle climate change,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by progressive think tank the Australia Institute. “An increased 2030 target is a good first step, however, the world has moved beyond first steps,” said Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute.
“Australia needs a long-term plan to end fossil fuels.”
A number of countries increased the ambition of their 2030 targets in the lead up to Cop26. Australia was the only developed country not to adjust its 2030 commitment ahead of the Glasgow conference. Labor’s pre-election commitment compares with 40% in South Korea, 40-45% in Canada, 50-52% in the United States, and 46-50% in Japan.