Chris Bowen outlines principles that under-pin Labor's approach to climate

On Thursday August 19, Labor's Shadow Minister for Climate Change addressed the Better Futures Forum and outlined the four key principles that underpin Labor's approach to climate change. The principles are ambitious and pragmatic, and deeply rooted in Labor's commitment to equity:

1. Net zero emissions by 2050 is necessary – but not sufficient. A strong roadmap there is important too.
2. Ambition must be backed by policy.
3. Good climate policy is good jobs policy.
4. the regions must be at the centre of our climate and energy policies.  

Speech to Better Futures Forum
Speech by Labor Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen
Online, Thursday 19 August 2021

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I’m joining you from the land of the Cabrogal people of the Darug nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Well, there are plenty of challenges in Australian public policy at the moment. 

More than half the country is in lockdown. My own community has been feeling that acutely for weeks and there is no clear path out.

The international geo-political situation has plenty of shoals, and as we have seen in Afghanistan, these challenges can have tragic consequences for millions.

But even in this crowded field, we must continue to lift our ambitions and efforts on climate change, which presents the most serious ongoing threat to our wellbeing.

The IPCC report last week was simultaneously unsurprising and shocking. 

While it was shocking, it is important we remember it contained hope.

It had both agency and urgency. That is to say it is not too late to act. But we must act quickly.

Of course, we are now less than three months from COP26 in Glasgow.

Ahead of that Conference, the focus is rightly on the current Government.

Like it or not – and I don’t like it – only they will represent Australia in Glasgow, and only they can update our NDC this year.

But we are also within months of a federal election – after which I hope to remove the ‘Shadow’ from my title.

And so today, it is appropriate that I announce four key principles that will underpin the climate change policy that Labor will take to the election - and the climate change program of an Albanese Labor Government.

First: net zero emissions by 2050 is necessary – but not sufficient. A strong roadmap there is important too.

A commitment to net zero by 2050 is the essential starting point of good climate policy.

Over 130 countries, every state and territory, and most of our major businesses and industry groups share that end goal.

It’s frankly extraordinary that the Government doesn’t.

It reveals that the conservatives still see climate change as nothing more than a wedge to be managed in the party room and exploited in the body politic.

In contrast, Labor has been committed to net zero since 2015.

Anthony Albanese re-committed to the target in one of his first acts as Opposition Leader.

But while a commitment to net zero by 2050 is necessary, Labor understands it is not sufficient.

If we want to achieve net zero in 2050, we can’t begin in 2049 – for two reasons.

First, decarbonisation of the global economy is the greatest economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution.

In Australia that transformation will take time. The longer we leave it, the harder it will be to take advantage of the opportunities.

Second, and most importantly, the extent of warming will be determined by aggregate emissions over the next three decades, not just those in 2050.

It is six years next month since Tony Abbott was deposed as Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott is, of course, a climate change denier. His most consequential impact on Australian policy was to wreck and reverse climate action.

But two prime ministers later, we are still saddled with the emissions reduction targets of this climate wrecker: 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Our target now pales in comparison to similar countries like Canada at 40-45 per cent, Japan at 46 per cent, and the United States at 50 per cent.

And of course, there are reasons to doubt that we’ll meet our already-inadequate target – and even if we do, the bulk of reductions to date were under the former Labor Government.  

As a country we like to punch above our weight, but in this regard we’re not even doing our fair share.

Australia’s emissions matter. We are among the highest per capita emitters in the world.

Reactionaries who argue we only represent a small share of global emissions miss a fundamental point.

We are the world’s 14th biggest emitter. That is to say there are 176 countries who emit less than us. 

Are we really going to argue that the burden of climate action must fall on the 13 countries that are larger emitters than us, but not on the 177 countries that emit the same or less than us?

These 177 countries account for 33 per cent of global emissions.

It’s a patently ridiculous argument.

And while the Government blames China and India for its own inaction, Australia will only persuade others to take stronger action when we get our own house in order. 

Penny Wong and I would see advocacy of stronger climate action as a key pillar of Australian foreign policy under a Labor Government. 

But we could only do that if we lift our own ambitions and, importantly, our achievements.

The Prime Minister said last week that the Government “will be updating … what we expect to achieve in 2030, when the Glasgow summit is held”.

Good. I’ll hold him to it. Australia should take a higher medium-term target to COP26 in November.

It should be informed by the climate science, and by the economics of what we need to do now to achieve net zero by 2050.

Our second principle is that that ambition must be backed by policy.

As I’ve said, ambition matters.

But policies to achieve that ambition matter even more, because targets are meaningless unless they are achieved.

That’s why my first question when any emissions reduction target is proposed is “how?”

Lest I sound like the current Government on this point, let me be clear: the Coalition doesn’t have real ambition or real policy.

They use their lack of policy to justify their lack of ambition, and vice versa.

By way of contrast, an Albanese Labor Government will deliver both.

We’ve already begun to announce ambitious, costed policies.

Our $20 billion investment in transmission infrastructure will allow more renewables into the grid.

Our abolition of inefficient taxes on low emissions vehicles will put them within reach of more Australians – without ending the weekend.

Our investment in 400 community batteries around Australia will allow more solar homes to enjoy the benefits of storage.

And Anthony and I will have much more to say over the coming months.

Those announcements will be guided by our third principle:

That good climate policy is good jobs policy.

We progressives have tended to talk about climate action as an environmental imperative. As a moral necessity.

Of course, we’re right: climate mitigation is an urgent environmental priority.

Australians know all too well that we are already experiencing more regular and severe natural disasters, like bushfires, droughts and floods.

One of the IPCC’s more stark warnings was that “the intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events are projected to increase throughout Australia”.

But all too often, to be honest, we have lost the economic argument for climate action: that it is in our national economic interest to act.

The conservatives paint climate action as a trade-off with economic growth, with workers to pay the price.

On the contrary, we must prosecute and win the argument that strong climate action is an imperative to underpin strong and shared economic growth in Australia in coming decades.

It’s clear now that the real economic risk is inaction – whether from carbon tariffs, the decarbonisation of global capital, or the physical impacts of climate change itself.

Those market signals should be an important guide to the nature and pace of climate action.

But the Coalition wants to use public money to invest in old technology – because they don’t care about climate change, or higher power prices for consumers.

And the Greens Party wants to end some industries immediately, with little or no regard for the workers and communities impacted.

Only Labor understands that governments should work with markets to not only reduce emissions, but to create jobs and national wealth.

That’s why I say at every chance that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.

That understanding – that climate action can create jobs and cut power prices while reducing emissions – drives our policy approach in each sector.

Our commitment to New Energy Apprenticeships, for example, will support 10,000 young Australians to train in the jobs of the future, and help build the workforce we need to electrify everything.

But the jobs of the future aren’t just in generating and storing renewable energy.

The jobs opportunities are right across our economy, because renewable energy is not only clean, but cheap.

It’s also less centralised than our traditional energy sources, unlocking cheaper energy in more places.

So we’ll continue to announce policies that are good for workers, businesses and communities – as well as the environment.

And as we do so, we’ll be guided by our fourth principle:

That the regions must be at the centre of our climate and energy policies.  

A handful of regions have powered Australia for decades – often in difficult and thankless circumstances. They deserve our deep respect for having done so.

But as the global economy decarbonises over coming decades, they also deserve our support, and our efforts to work with them – not foist plans upon them. 

Happily, the regions that have always powered Australia are best placed to power us into the future, because they have the best access to transmission lines and other vital infrastructure.

They have the space necessary for large renewable and storage installations, and the skilled workforces that understand energy.

Take, for example, the battery manufacturers setting up shop in Townsville and Maryborough, or the hydrogen proponents investing in Gladstone.

Or the fact that almost every offshore wind proposal in Australia lies off the coast of a coal community – because those regions are best connected to the electricity grid.

But none of those proposals can currently proceed, because the Government has broken its promise to introduce a regulatory regime for offshore renewables.

That’s one symptom of a broader problem: the Government simply refuses to wake the sleeping giant of regional and rural jobs that will be created by massive increases in renewable electricity generation and use.


Let me conclude by saying this.

You all know how hard the ‘climate wars’ have been in Australia.

A toxic embrace of identity politics and division by our political opponents has seen meaningful action on climate stymied for coming up to two decades.

This must come to an end. As Matt Kean told this Forum earlier this week, we simply must move beyond “false facts, fear and prejudice”.

With the world moving ahead of Australia – and Australians moving ahead of their Government – I think there’s a unique opportunity to win the argument for climate action at the next election.

That’s because, despite the inevitable scare campaigns, the reality of the opportunities of climate action is on our side.

Now, let me very frank about how we win this argument.

I’m sorry to say it won’t be won by spraying graffiti and burning prams on the steps of Parliament House.

Nor will it be won with last minute convoys of condescension. We’ve seen that movie before.

It will be won by ambition, and the hard slog of respectful and consistent engagement with people who are concerned about the economic impact of climate action on their families and their regions.

It will be won with a forward-looking and optimistic message about creating jobs and cutting power bills while reducing emissions.

And it’ll be won with policy propositions that support that message – consistent with the principles I’ve outlined today.

I look forward to working with you all in the lead up to the next election and beyond.

Most of all, I look forward to being the Minister for Climate Change and Energy in an Albanese Labor Government – a Government with climate ambition, and with the policies to make that ambition a reality.

Thank you.  

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