Labor rules out ‘carbon tax’ and ETS in climate change fight

Labor's Chris Bowen ruled out a carbon price on ABC's <i>Insiders</i>.

Labor's Chris Bowen ruled out a carbon price on ABC's Insiders. Photo: ABC

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen has ruled out introducing a carbon price or an emissions trading scheme if his party wins government, as attention turns to the Opposition’s climate policies following the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor has also distanced the Coalition from an emissions trading scheme, saying the government didn’t want to “penalise” big polluters.

“Our approach is to incentivise,” Mr Taylor said on Sunday.

The COP26 summit in Glasgow continues this week, but world leaders have already headed home, with their portion of the global conference already over.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to begin a blitz of regional battleground seats this week, spruiking the government’s net-zero plan, which he announced on the eve of the Glasgow summit.

The Coalition is still yet to publicly release the crucial economic and emissions modelling that underpins that plan, and will face further pressure to open it up to independent scrutiny.

But Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party is under climate pressure of its own, with calls for the Opposition to outline its 2030 emissions reduction target.

“Glasgow still has some way to go. The leaders have left but the conference and the negotiations continue,” Mr Bowen, Labor’s shadow climate minister, told the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

To illustrate why Labor chose to wait until after the summit to lock in its 2030 target, Mr Bowen said that governments responsible for 89 per cent of the world’s emissions now had net-zero pledges, up from 50 per cent at the beginning of 2021.

Mr Morrison told COP26 that Australia was on track to reduce emissions by 30 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but did not officially upgrade the Tony Abbott-era target of 26 to 28 per cent.

Former opposition leader Bill Shorten took a target of 45 per cent to the last election.

Mr Albanese is expected to commit Labor to a target somewhere in the middle of those numbers, but has continually resisted requests to lock in that number, saying the Opposition was waiting for the outcome of the Glasgow summit before making a commitment.

Mr Bowen said that modelling was “one of the factors that we would like to have a look at” before locking in Labor’s 2030 target, before adding that the policy was already “well advanced”.

“You don’t release a budget reply until you see the budget. We’ve now seen the government’s alleged plan. We’re still waiting on more detail about the modelling,” he said.

“We’ve announced a big suite of policies, much more than the government, which shows how seriously we take climate change. But we also have much more to say.”

No carbon ‘tax’

The government has refused to confirm when it will release its climate modelling, and Mr Taylor was last week unable to pinpoint the exact cost of the net-zero plan.

But Mr Bowen has confirmed that Labor has no plans to resurrect a price on carbon.

He ruled out doing so on Sunday, after the Coalition government attacked the Opposition at successive elections by claiming it would bring back “a carbon tax”.

“If you’re asking if there’ll be an emissions trading scheme or a carbon price under a Labor government, no,” he told Insiders host David Speers.

However, Mr Bowen did not rule out bolstering a ‘safeguard mechanism’, which compels big polluters to keep their emissions below a certain baseline level.

He said that was part of “a suite of measures that are available”.

Mr Bowen also pledged there would be “no new coal-fired power stations in Australia under a Labor government”.

On Sky News, about the same time on Sunday morning, Mr Taylor also pushed back on talk of an ETS under the Coalition.

“That is not how this is working,” he said of the government’s existing policies.

“The traditional approach to a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is to impose penalties – penalise the activities you don’t like.

“This is a very different approach. This is an incentives-driven approach.

“Our approach is to incentivise.”

The government’s net-zero plan relies heavily on carbon capture and storage, international carbon credits, and technology that has yet to be invented.

Mr Taylor and Mr Morrison believe their plan will encourage businesses to voluntarily switch to cleaner practices once the cost of low-emissions technology falls below a certain price.

But energy and climate experts have criticised Australia’s reliance on carbon capture, saying it will be less effective than the government has forecast.

Mr Bowen also voiced his concerns, saying the technology would “play no role” in offsetting pollution from coal-fired power.

“There’s no evidence it can play any role. The government puts too much store in carbon capture and storage, uses it as an excuse to avoid reducing emissions in other ways,” he said.

Mr Albanese has not said when Labor will release its 2030 target.

“We’ll make our announcements after Glasgow, well before the election. We’ve said that we needed to wait and see the context of the Glasgow agreement and what comes out of that,” he said last week.

“We also need, obviously, to see the government’s modelling.”

‘A good step forward’

Although COP26 has so far not delivered the ambitious global outcomes some had hoped for, Mr Taylor said the government was optimistic about Glasgow’s work.

“I’m not going to predict the final outcome at the political level of this conference,” he said.

“What I am going to say is this conference is recognising – and the world is recognising – that the way to actually achieve the best possible outcomes is by deploying technologies with good projects.”

The Glasgow summit had the pivotal goal of locking in policies to keep world temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

Mr Taylor said keeping temperatures to 1.5 degrees was “a very difficult outcome to achieve … everyone has understood that from the start”.

Following revised pledges at Glasgow, temperatures are now forecast to rise by 2 degrees based on current commitments.

Mr Bowen said that was “not enough, but a good step forward”.

“We couldn’t have said that before the Glasgow conference.”

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