climate Anthony Albanese scott morrison
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

After the second hottest year on record globally, the hottest year on record in Australia, our second hottest summer ever after 2018-19, an unprecedentedly catastrophic summer of bushfires and record-breaking Arctic and Antarctic temperatures, Labor has opted to, in effect, surrender on climate to the denialists of the Coalition.

Anthony Albanese’s Press Club speech today — liberally distributed, as usual, to media outlets a day ahead — abandons even fifth-best policy positions on climate in favour of offering the government a chance to establish a bipartisan energy policy.

By abandoning any interest in a National Energy Guarantee, Anthony Albanese will position Labor as weaker on climate action than Malcolm Turnbull, who at least sought to include both energy security and emissions reduction within his energy policy framework before another right-wing/Murdoch putsch forced him out.

Albanese’s bottom lines for a bipartisan policy are that it be scalable, so that Labor can embrace stronger targets than the Coalition’s unachievable (on current policies) 26-28% on 2005 reduction targets, that the Coalition’s infantile “soil magic” Emissions Reduction Fund be discontinued, and that nuclear power remains off the table.

However, Labor is happy to accept carbon capture and storage — which like nuclear power suffers from massive cost blowouts and long delays, but unlike nuclear power has never actually been shown to work.

The problem with the “scalability” argument that is that, ultimately, all policies are scalable — it just depends on the cost.

For example, when the Coalition first committed to the 26-28% target under Tony Abbott, the Australian Industry Group, not exactly known for its radical climate activism, calculated that achieving such a target with the Coalition’s Direct Action policy (then, and now, the only climate policy the government has) would cost taxpayers between $100 and $250 billion.

Given that the Coalition shuns all forms of climate-based regulation, let alone a carbon price, taxpayer funding is the only remaining mechanism for achieving emissions reductions, either through directly funding emissions abatement undertakings by business and the community (with or without the kind of dodgy brothers accounting that the Emissions Reduction Fund comes with around sequestration), or by incentivising investment in emissions reduction technologies like renewable energy and storage infrastructure.

In the Coalition’s hands, direct funding ends up being treated as a pork barrel, handed to key supporter groups like farmers, or to its donors.

By accepting — though not proposing to fund — CCS, Albanese can offer the coal wing of Labor the pretence that coal mining can continue as a legitimate industry on a warming planet, even as the ruined communities continue to clear up the wreckage from the summer from hell. In doing so, he’s peddling in the same fiction as the government — that CCS can ever make a meaningful contribution to reducing emissions. It cannot.

That all said, ordinarily, the offer of genuine bipartisanship on a key area of long-term infrastructure investment would be a sound one.

Investors need policy certainty in energy, something they haven’t had since Labor lost government. But there can be no bipartisanship with the Coalition on anything to do with climate. It is run by climate denialists, and any attempt to take meaningful climate action will lead to a repeat of 2018.

As Malcolm Turnbull correctly put it, these people operate like terrorists, intent on blowing up their own government, with the support of News Corp, if anyone tries to address climate change. You can’t do any sort of deal with them. That merely rewards terrorists.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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