Anthony Albanese vows to set new medium-term emissions reduction target

By Katharine Murphy and Adam Morton

Anthony Albanese has committed Labor to setting a new medium-term emissions reduction target consistent with scientific advice before the next federal election.

The Labor leader made the commitment after a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday which included an overture to Scott Morrison to reach a bipartisan consensus on an energy policy mechanism.

Given Labor is divided about whether to support the Coalition’s 2030 target, or to continue with its practice of setting higher abatement targets consistent with advice from climate scientists, the Labor leader was pressed on the opposition’s position.

Albanese told reporters he was not in a position to specify what the interim target would be, but said Labor’s position would be unveiled “at the appropriate time in the lead-up to the next election”.

Labor has committed to a net zero emissions reduction target by 2050 and Albanese said the medium-term target would be “based on science”.

Albanese’s overture to the government was welcomed by major business groups. Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, said Australia “cannot afford to waste the unprecedented cooperation we have achieved throughout the Covid-19 crisis”.

“On every issue we’ll need to work together to solve problems and create the new jobs that will drive our recovery.

“We have long called for a bipartisan, national climate and energy framework that is scalable and provides business with the confidence they need to drive new investment, create new jobs and accelerate our transition to net-zero emissions.”

The Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, said “certainty” was the “key factor” for where industry chose to invest and “volatility” would impede the economic recovery.

“An energy framework and certainty around that is going to be crucial for our growth prospects to be maximised. Continuity of approach and policy leads to greater confidence to invest.”

Willox said businesses would only “be prepared to invest on sufficient scale to provide cheaper and reliable power we all need” with policy certainty.

Albanese has signalled to the government that Labor has an open mind on a bipartisan energy policy mechanism, provided it is not the Coalition’s existing emissions reduction fund and provided any emissions reduction targets embedded within it are scalable.

He also opened the door for taxpayer support for carbon capture and storage technologies, provided the government didn’t seek to fund those projects through the national renewable energy bodies the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

In an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 program on Wednesday evening, Albanese said he would not be prepared to budge on the 2050 net-zero target “because that’s the right thing and the science tells us this”.

Any interim targets would need to be consistent with that end goal, he said, and the business community was “crying out” for certainty.

“It’s extraordinary that the government in response to what was a mature policy position put forward in the long-term national interest came out with the same old juvenile politics,” Albanese said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed Albanese’s “commitment to the integrity of the nation’s key renewable energy agencies”.

“Any moves to dilute the mandates of Arena and the CEFC to allow them to invest in fossil fuel projects would be a perversion of their important and very successful clean energy investment functions,” said the ACF’s climate program manager, Gavan McFadzean.

“Australia is positioned to be a renewable energy superpower. Any move to change the direction of Arena and the CEFC is a step in the wrong direction.”

Meanwhile, the energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, confirmed the government would give $3.3m to Shine Energy, a company run by Indigenous traditional owners in central Queensland, for a feasibility study into a 1 gigawatt coal-fired power plant.

It follows the company’s chief executive complaining it was yet to receive the money, which was promised before last year’s federal election, and questioning whether it had been used as a pawn to help the Coalition retain power.

Taylor said “new, firm generation” – that which can be called on at any time – was “needed to drive down prices and bolster system strength, which is a real concern in the region”. He said $2m would also be spent on a pre-feasibility study for a 1.5 gigawatt pumped hydro plant, also near Collinsville.

In 2018, the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) suggested there was an “energy surplus” in north Queensland, and new large-scale plants were not likely to be needed in the area until the 2030s. A separate Aemo report found the lowest cost replacement for coal plants as they closed would come from renewable energy and “firming” support from a range of possible sources, not including coal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that limiting global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was likely to require coal power being cut by between 59% and 78% below 2010 levels by 2030, and for greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero by 2050.