For more than two weeks there has been neither a flicker on our Pollute-o-meter, measuring pollution reduction potential of credible committed policies, nor a glimmer on the in-depth star rating of major party policies.

With huge questions hanging over both major party policies, are we going to get a late surge or will this election be a tale of missed opportunities?

Commentators and satirists from Graham Richardson to The Chaser have been savage on the ALP’s citizens assembly and lack of depth on pollution and climate change plans.  Despite this, according to Essential Media, the ALP still has a 14% lead over the Coalition in “best party to manage environment and climate change” 38% to 24%.  And, according to Newspoll, 47% think the PM is more capable of handling climate change compared to 28% for Tony Abbott.

With a quarter of a billion dollars still left in the Renewable Energy Fund pre-2014, and these advantages, will the ALP surprise at the campaign launch with some bold new initiatives? Can they overcome their paralysing paranoia on power price scare campaigns, which are already coming from the Coalition?

There is still plenty of scope to sharpen the intent of the role of the citizen’s assembly to a more supportive role in achieving the pollution reduction target commitments still supported by both parties.  The ALP could end its policy ambiguity, which leaves us waiting till 2012, with an emphatic commitment to legislate, in the life of the next Parliament, a mechanism to achieve the targets with limits to, and price tags on, pollution.

To give credibility to that move, the ALP could commit to bolder action on managing power bills by putting energy savings obligations on electricity retailers or distributors and large industrial users.  Modelling and overseas experience has shown this could save households money. It would also help manage potential power price rises that AGL and others have warned are coming because of uncertainty on climate policy.

This would also have the benefit of boosting the jobs, skills and businesses vital to the bigger pollution reduction task ahead.  Many emerging jobs and businesses in this energy efficiency area have been put at risk or on the scrap heap because of the CPRS delay.  This risk also applies to carbon farming businesses such as CO2 Australia, Carbon Conscious and Greenfleet caught waiting for viable land based policy solutions that should also emerge.

And is the Liberal Party going to miss a generational opportunity to get greater pollution and climate action branding and credibility? David Cameron and the Tories have surged ahead with action in the UK and strong climate diplomacy.  He and other conservatives such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have shown centre-left parties don’t have a monopoly on such branding.

Despite many hints, such as potential support for closing down a coal-fired power station, the Coalition hasn’t boosted its pollution and climate change credentials since the release of their direct action plan in March.

They could take some of the measures discussed above.  The action plan discusses power station performance standards and energy efficiency policies still to come. Action on both could reduce the hypocrisy of running scare campaigns on electricity prices while having policies that leave uncertainty that will, according to generators themselves, increase power prices (see our electricity prices fact sheet).

The Coalition could also end its climate diplomacy policies that are contradictory at best, cynical at worst.

At the launch last Sunday, Tony Abbott repeated the Coalition’s support for 2020 targets stronger than the minimum of a 5% reduction off 2000 levels.  Stronger targets would be dependent on stronger global action.  But Coalition plans to withdraw funding for climate support for developing nations and clean energy technology co-operation, is destructive to efforts building global ambition.

Finally, the Coalition could explain how taxing Australians to pay for carbon reductions through its multibillion dollar emissions reduction fund is not a carbon tax. Using tax payer money to pay big polluters is still a carbon tax and is less efficient, fair and effective than making businesses directly responsible the pollution they cause.

All these things could happen in the remaining days of this campaign …

Or we could be left straddling the barbed wire fence with our Pollute-o-meter and star rating tools.  The ALP’s stronger support for climate diplomacy and clean energy research and development has them ahead of the Coalition on our qualitative star rating but behind the Coalition and their emissions reduction fund in terms of domestic pollution reduction potential.  The Greens are clearly ahead on both.

Bets on a late surge of action anyone?

John Connor is CEO of The Climate Institute