(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

The argument over Labor’s 43% 2030 emissions reduction target is rapidly coming to resemble that of Scott Morrison’s nonsensical 2050 net-zero target, and it’s every bit as political.

Labor can rightly insist it took 43% to the election and won, but any talk of a mandate is undercut by its relatively low primary vote. But by the same logic, the more ambitious targets — and realistic, in climate emergency terms — of the Greens and the teals have even less of a mandate. It’s more likely that Labor is acutely aware, from the Gillard era, of what happens when it appears to break election promises in relation to climate action.

The government also wants to paint itself as the sensible centre on climate: 43% stands in contrast to the Coalition, which has no climate policy beyond the discredited targets of the Abbott-Morrison era, and with the Greens, whom the government wants to portray as irrational zealots.

Thus the invocation of 2009 by Anthony Albanese, aided and abetted by the press gallery, which has decided in its institutional memory that the Greens should have voted for Kevin Rudd’s hopelessly compromised carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS), thus avoiding a lost decade on climate. But that’s the stuff of political science fiction — it would merely have entrenched a weak emissions trading scheme delivering little in emissions abatement. The only thing that would have avoided a decade of climate wars was keeping the Coalition out of power.

Labor now is only too happy to exploit this fake history and suggest that the Greens remain once again poised to wreck sensible climate action in the name of policy purity. It’s all about wedging the Greens, who can only complain about Labor’s take-it-or-leave-it approach.

But whether the target is 43% or 50% or higher is less important than the fact that the government has no intention of resiling from approving new coal and gas projects — so that we can continue to generate colossal revenues from fossil fuel exports. Gas projects like Woodside’s Scarborough gas field, and what will likely be the world’s dirtiest gas project, Santos’ Barossa project in the Northern Territory, will add billions of tonnes of carbon emissions over coming decades. The government also has applications for more than two dozen new coal mines.

Labor’s view is that our fossil fuel exports are not our problem — it’s other countries that burn our coal and gas after they import it, so don’t complain to them about those emissions. It’s committed to expanding our fossil fuel exports as much as it can.

There’s the real conflict, and it’s a profound one deserving far more coverage than the 43% debate — especially considering taxpayers get next to nothing in tax revenue from fossil fuel companies selling gas overseas.

It also points to the basic hypocrisy of the Albanese government, which is promising to step up in the Pacific and talking about taking seriously the concerns of Pacific Island nations about climate change while also backing the addition of billions of tonnes of emissions to the atmosphere for the benefit of the resources sector. Whether we embrace 43% or 50% won’t make any difference to that impact on small island states.