An Environment Election – Will Labor’s Renewables Plan Work?

Professor Christopher Wright discusses how Federal Labor’s climate policies have set the stage for an environmental election battle.

The Federal Labor Opposition has set the stage for an election to be fought and possibly won over climate change policy. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared at the party’s national conference in Melbourne over the weekend that 50% of Australia’s energy generation should come from renewable sources by 2030. The policy platform adopted by the ALP also included taking an emissions trading scheme to the next election though details of that are yet to be released.

There are concerns from unions and business groups about job losses and other expenses. But ahead of the United Nation’s COP21 talks in Paris at the end of November, Mr Shorten has been congratulated for adopting a stance of political significance. The Labor leader is also basking in the glory that Former US Vice President Al Gore is impressed by his policies. But without particular details, there have been concerns about the effectiveness of these proposals.

“Australia, like all developed nations, needs to undertake urgent and dramatic decarbonisation of its economy if we are to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change,” Professor Christopher Wright said. He believes Labor’s renewables policy goal is eminently achievable given the example of countries like Germany which through a policy of  Energiewende (‘energy transformation’) have committed to 40-45% non-nuclear green power by 2020, and 55-60% by 2035.

“Given the scale of the climate crisis we now face and the particularly vulnerable nature of the Australian continent to extreme weather and sea-level rise, a strong argument can be made for more dramatic renewables and emissions reduction targets, a serious price on carbon emissions, and government intervention in reducing fossil fuel extraction and use through for instance mandatory closure of our ageing coal-fired power plants,” he said.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt believes the introduction of an ETS is the equivalent to reintroducing a carbon tax and that it would increase power prices. Professor Wright disagrees and points out that modelling released at the recent inquiry into the Renewable Energy Target (RET) revealed that continued investment in renewable energy would actually assist in reducing power prices and contribute to a net saving to consumers.

No matter the policy, it appears climate change will be a central issue in a future federal election. There are already signs that some Liberal backbenchers are calling for a rethink on the government’s position on renewable energy. “Climate change has of course had a huge impact already on Australian politics contributing to changes in the leadership of the ALP and LNP and the fall of Prime Ministers. There are of course alternative, shorter-term issues that can be exploited for political gain and which can act to distract the voting public (e.g. refugees, terrorism), however climate change will continue to be the most significant political issue facing us as a nation for the rest of this century.”

Christopher Wright is Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School. He is the author (with Daniel Nyberg) of the book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction (Cambridge University Press) to be published in September. Details here: https://creativeselfdestruction.wordpress.com/

Top Image: Matt Hintsa ‘Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project’ – Flickr Commons