You’d think the government and opposition would be keen to focus on the number-one issue for voters this election campaign.
Yet if 2019 was the climate change election, 2022 is shaping up to be the don’t-talk-about-climate-change election.
Despite climate change topping voters’ (29 per cent) list of concerns, both the Labor Party and LNP have been avoiding it like the plague.
While that might suit them — given the perceived divisiveness of the issue among some of their prospective supporter bases — it leaves many climate-concerned voters with very little to go on.
So, we’ve asked some Australian climate scientists, all of them IPCC-contributing authors, to take a look at the climate policies of the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, and give you a breakdown of how each major party’s climate policies stack up.
- Peter Newman — professor of sustainability with the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute.
- Lesley Hughes — professor of biology at Macquarie University, board director with the Climate Council.
- Nerilie Abram — professor of climate science and associate director (research) at the Australian National University.
- Andy Pitman — professor and director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at UNSW.
Responses have been trimmed for brevity, and omitted where they have doubled up.
The Liberal Party policy includes net-zero by 2050 and a 2030 emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels, though they say we’re on track for higher than that.
Their Long-term Emissions Reduction Plan includes such focuses as clean energy technology, carbon capture and storage, and investment in emerging technologies like low-emissions cement and agriculture.
It’s a “clear plan” for achieving net-zero by 2050, according to a statement on Scott Morrison’s website, that will “deliver results through technology not taxes”.
The Labor Party policy includes a net-zero target by 2050 and a 2030 emissions reduction target of 43 per cent on 2005 levels.
Their Powering Australia plan includes a national electric vehicle strategy, electricity grid upgrades, and investment in green manufacturing.
Their plan will “prioritise growth and investment for the regions” according to the ALP website, while delivering Australian business “certainty”.
The Greens policy is to reach net-zero by 2035. Their focus includes clean energy generation and a transition away from coal and gas by 2030.
Their Powering Past Coal and Gas plan outlines EV and green industry strategies, and includes ending fossil fuel subsidies and closing tax loopholes.
Their plan will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs, bring electricity costs down, and drive our economy into the future”, according to their website.
The ABC put a set of four questions to each of the scientists.
They were first sent on April 27, so some answers may pertain to policies current as of that date, regardless of subsequent updates.
Is the policy consistent with the Paris Agreement of limiting warming to as close to 1.5C as possible? Why/why not?
Peter Newman — no
“This policy is not seriously ensuring the transition begins immediately and leads to interim targets that are achievable, and hence could lead to net-zero by 2050. [That is what is needed to] keep us within reach of the 1.5C target. The work on hydrogen hubs may be the best thing the Liberals have done, but does not appear in the policy, so it doesn’t seem a serious exercise. The assessment here is based on what is provided as the Liberal Policy for Environment. However, it does not set out many of the activities already underway and/or committed and in budgets. This means it seems to be lacking substance … [and] the public have only this very simplistic list of ideas.”
Lesley Hughes — far from it
“If every country was to follow Australia’s lead on climate, the world would be headed for warming in excess of 3C and even up to 4C. At 3C or 4C … Black Summer will be considered a cool year. Really, if we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5C, Australia needs to be aiming high, and setting a target to cut emissions by 74 per cent by 2030 and getting to net-zero emissions by 2035. This is the target recommended last year by an independent Climate Targets Panel…”
Nerilie Abram — wildly inconsistent
“To limit warming to 1.5 degrees requires Australia’s emissions to be cut by 74 per cent by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2035. The current Liberal Party policy would have used up our entire remaining carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees before we even get to 2030.”
Peter Newman — the best thing yet
“This policy is the best thing yet we have seen in Australian politics to get us to being a good global citizen that abides by its Paris commitments. An ALP government could take these commitments to the next UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] conference in Egypt in December and show they have ratcheted up their level of commitment with a clear set of strategies behind them.”
Nerilie Abram — no
“It increases the ambition of Australia’s 2030 emission reduction target to 43 per cent, which is a substantial improvement on the Liberal Party target, but isn’t the 50-74 per cent reduction that Australia needs to make by 2030 to play our part in meeting the Paris Agreement.”
Andy Pitman — 1.5C virtually impossible
Professor Pitman gave the same response to this question for all parties. He said that he believes limiting warming to 1.5C is now “virtually impossible”. “Any party that commits to limiting warming to 1.5C needs to explain how [they will do it]. It would require overshoot and active removal of carbon from the atmosphere which is subject to multiple technical and feasibility constraints.”
Peter Newman — yes, but …
“Yes in theory, but not in practice. Paris requires commitments to go beyond targets by having detailed strategies of how to achieve them. These strategies are good ideas, but [need to be] linked into detailed modeling that relates to delivery.”
Lesley Hughes — yes
“Yes, this policy does meet that goal. It is the only policy from a major party that matches the scale and pace of action the climate science demands. Any shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires drawing down significant amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The Greens’ plan recognises this, and proposes achieving 100 million tonnes of ‘negative emissions’ by 2040, although it does not elaborate on how this will be achieved.”
Nerilie Abram — yes
“The policy of the Greens is consistent with the scientific evidence for the scale and speed of emission reductions needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.”
How confident are you that Australia will reach net-zero by 2050 under the policy framework? Why are/aren’t you confident?
Lesley Hughes — no confidence
“To be frank, we have no confidence whatsoever in the LNP’s Net Zero by 2050 plan. It may as well have been written in crayon. Remarkably, the Liberal-National Government’s own modeling for this does not get Australia to net-zero by 2050. It is, in fact, only a little more than half by 2050.”
Nerilie Abram — no confidence
“Their plan for net-zero relies on untenable assumptions of greenhouse gas removal and doesn’t actually even get to zero by 2050.”
Andy Pitman — not enough information to assess
“That is very hard to assess because there are no intermediate targets. Given it is not “the Liberal Party” that is central here, rather it is the Coalition, and given statements from some in the Coalition, I would prefer to see a legislated 2035 target from which to build.”
Peter Newman — confident
“The modeling by Reputex [energy research company] in the ALP policy seems very credible and traces each policy into a quantitative delivery of 43 per cent greenhouse gas reduction by 2030, based on conservative and well-researched assumptions. These early interventions are the most important part of the transition to 2050, as once they are underway they take off.”
Lesley Hughes — confident
“First of all, the modeling Labor has used is robust and it checks out. So I can say with confidence that the 2030 target in the ALP plan has set Australia on a path to achieve net-zero in 2050.”
Andy Pitman — low confidence
“I think net-zero is hugely challenging to achieve and some of the strategies are less likely to deliver emission reductions than I think the ALP hope. However, they have set a target for 2030 which I think is important as it … allows an evaluation of how they are tracking.”
NB. The Greens consider net-zero by 2050 a “death sentence” and aim to reach net-zero by 2035 or sooner. Some of the responses below relate to the Greens’ aim of net-zero by 2035.
Peter Newman — low confidence in net-zero by 2035
“[I’m] not sure they can get to 100 per cent by 2035. This is a serious plan which is quantified and costed with jobs and greenhouse gas savings clearly assigned in each state. The need to make such policies become real and deliverable begins with good modeling and then has to bring all the states. This is hard to see in the document.”
Nerilie Abram — low confidence in net-zero by 2035
“I don’t doubt the ambition of the Greens, and their aim for net-zero by 2035 is science based. But net-zero is a hugely challenging target that we don’t yet have the technical capability to achieve, and this plan doesn’t lay out the detail for how Australia will reach [it].”
Andy Pitman — moderately confident in net-zero by 2050
“The Greens’ climate policies are consistent with what scientists have been saying for a long time. If implemented, I think this would get Australia close to net-zero by 2050.”
For voters concerned about climate change, how would you summarise this policy?
Peter Newman — not serious
“Not serious and lacking detail even on their best projects being announced. Obviously, they are divided and unable to make a serious contribution.”
Lesley Hughes — not an effective climate policy
“The Morrison government’s climate policy can be summarised pretty quickly and simply really, in that the Morrison government has no effective federal climate policy. [They] are actively supporting the expansion of fossil fuel production while at the same time banking on … technology that may or may not materialise sometime in the next three decades to solve the greatest threat of our time: climate change. That’s a hell of a gamble.”
Nerilie Abram — lacks ambition
“It has lots of catchphrases designed to make it seem like they are doing enough, but it lacks any real ambition and is not based on the scientific evidence.”
Andy Pitman — difficult to assess without targets
“A 2035 target should be part of the equation in my view, and without that target, the viability of the Liberal strategies is difficult to assess.”
Peter Newman — a solid start
“A very solid start with the potential to make a real difference. There is confidence in this climate policy as it’s been taken seriously with a very good quantitative basis to the next steps, which can put us clearly into being Paris-compliant. There could be much more of a target, but it’s still up there with most progressive nations.”
Lesley Hughes — a good start
“It’s a good start, but it could certainly be more ambitious. Under the ALP plan, renewable energy (like solar and wind) is expected to power 82 per cent of our electricity needs by 2030. So there’s a focus on transitioning the grid to renewables. Notably, the modeling will lead to significant jobs growth and private investment.”
Nerilie Abram — promising elements
“This policy has some very promising elements, including a strong focus on emission reductions this decade … that is certainly what is needed if we are going to tackle the climate change problem.”
Andy Pitman — not particularly ambitious but …
“It balances what is electorally palatable with meeting the 2C limit under Paris. It is not particularly ambitious but, given where we are, it is probably about as ambitious as can be achieved without a very great deal of courage.”
Peter Newman — strong, though lacking sophistication
“This has a series of policies for adaptation and mitigation that are quantified, though not with the sophistication of the Reputex [ALP] modelling. It shows how they will reach 100 per cent by 2035 and then by 2050, it goes into negative emissions by regenerating the landscape with carbon farming. However, it is not modelled showing delivery. It is simply straight lines from now to a precipitous drop to 100 per cent in the next 12 years. They have some transport policies including public transport, but in the end, they are focused on decarbonising power. The repair of the landscape is a strong part of the policy, but lacks detail.”
Lesley Hughes — a lot to like, with some gaps
“There is a lot to like about this policy. It’s ambitious and it takes tangible and urgent steps to reduce emissions quickly and to rewire and electrify Australia. It would also see big polluters having to pay for the damage caused by their emissions contributions. However, it does have some gaps: it does not cover Australia’s responsibility to support vulnerable communities abroad with adapting to the impacts of climate change. The plan could also be strengthened with clearer steps and targets for phasing out gas production and exports from Australia.”
Nerilie Abram — science based, but lacks detail
“The aims of this policy are science based, but the plan lacks the level of detail and modeling of the major parties. The Greens, together with independent candidates, could have an important role to play in forcing the future government to raise ambitions, so that Australia’s emission reductions efforts this decade happen with the speed and scale that is needed.”
Andy Pitman — broadly consistent with science, but …
“I think the Green’s climate policies are broadly consistent with the science — the challenge is their implementation and that needs to be done urgently, and politically feasibly.”
How would you rank the parties’ policies?
Peter Newman: 1. Labor 2. Greens 3. Coalition
Leslie Hughes: 1. Greens 2. Labor 3. Coalition
Nerilie Abram: 1. Greens 2. Labor 3. Coalition
Andy Pitman: 1. Greens 2. Labor 3. Coalition
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