Days after releasing the climate policy platform it will take to the next election, the federal opposition has defended its pledge not to mandate the closure of coal-fired power plants before the market decides their time is up.
Appearing before the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen touted Labor’s pledge to reduce emissions 43% by the end of the decade if it wins government.
That commitment forms the basis of Labor’s policy framework, which goes beyond the Coalition government’s promise to lower net emissions between 26% and 28% by 2030.
The Labor framework suggests a pivot to green energy will be instrumental to reaching those emission targets, and promises that renewables will supply 82% of the power available on the National Electricity Market by the decade’s end.
It suggests the party will invest $20 billion to upgrade the national grid so it can facilitate that wave of green power, and deploy $300 million to build solar banks and community batteries across the map.
However, the policy framework makes no mention of reining in coal power stations, which remain the largest contributor of electricity to the market and a major contributor to Australia’s scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions.
While green power is becoming increasingly affordable, and ageing coal power plants, like NSW’s Liddell facility, are set to cease operations in the coming decades, coal power generation could maintain a pivotal role in Australia’s power mix under Labor’s proposed policy settings.
When questioned by The Sydney Morning Herald’s climate and energy correspondent Mike Foley about the party’s plan to boost renewable energy market share without mandating coal plant closures or accelerating plans to do so, Bowen defended Labor’s hands off approach.
“Let me be very clear: No coal-fired power station closures as a result of Labor policy,” Bowen said.
Using Liddell as an example, Bowen said the market is choosing not to extend the lifespan of coal generation out of its own volition.
“The market will determine that. The market is determining that,” he said.
“Is there any policy lever that a Labor government will pull that will bring any of those coal fire power station closures forward? No. If you’re asking me to rule out if any coal-fired power station will close? No, I can’t do that, because some are already scheduled to close.
“Those coal fire power station also close regardless who is in office, because that’s been determined by the market. We should be straightforward about that.”
Those policy settings split the difference between the Coalition, where Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has called for “low-emissions” coal plants in Australia’s future energy mix; and the Greens, whose leader, Adam Bandt, has pledged to phase out coal power completely if his party hold the balance of power in the next Federal Parliament.
By letting the market decide the fate of coal power, a prospective Labor government would also stand apart from 40 nations which recently declared their intention to actively phase out coal power generation by the 2040s.
The Labor policy handbook comes some two years after it the party faced a polling booth backlash, which was partly linked to its campaigning against the Adani coal mine project in Queensland.
Incidentally, that election campaign also saw the party pledge to cut emissions by 45% by 2030 — 2% less than the current target, which Bowen today said was “ambitious, but it’s also achievable.”
Climate scientists say a global reduction of 50% of carbon emissions by 2030 is required to keep temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels.
Labor’s overall climate policy plan is a “good first step, but it will need to be strengthened significantly over time to tackle climate change,” the Climate Council said Monday.