Of the major parties, Labor provides most realistic path to clean energy

Since the last election, in 2018, two events in eastern Australia have changed the way we think about the climate crisis. The first, in the summer of 2019-20, was the black summer bushfires. They caused the loss of five lives, destroyed more than 300 homes and burned through 1.5 million hectares of land, much of it forests. More than three billion natives animals were estimated to have been killed or displaced.

An aerial view of the RayGen Power Plant Carwarp renewable energy project in Mildura. Victoria.Credit:Eddie Jim

And this year torrential, record-breaking rainfall means rivers and creeks have burst their banks, floodwaters have crept into homes and farmers have been unable to harvest crops across Victoria and up Australia’s eastern coast.

It’s well established the black Summer bushfires were made worse by global heating, with the warming climate contributing to drying out fuel loads and worsening bushfire weather. Scientists are yet to establish the exact role of climate change in the flooding, but experts like Professor Mark Howden agree climate is “embedded in the natural disasters that have affected the country in the past three years”.

Australians have bitter personal experience of the climate crisis and at the federal election it showed, with a strong swing to Greens and independent “teal” climate-focused candidates.

Polling undertaken for The Age, and the work we have done for our Victoria’s Agenda project, reveals Victorians care about climate change. When asked about the issues that matter to them at this election, voters put climate change in third place behind cost of living and healthcare. About 70 per cent said the environment, including climate change, was important to them, and 43 per cent described it as “very important”. For Victoria to do its part, our government needs to urgently enact policies that make deep cuts to greenhouse pollution, reduce emissions and restore the natural world.

As environment reporter Miki Perkins writes today, this is an area where the policies of the major parties are significantly different. At the start of the campaign, Daniel Andrews announced Labor would increase its emissions targets, reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 75 to 80 per cent (on 2005 levels) by 2035, and reach net zero by 2045. For the first time, the Liberal-National Coalition has committed to a 50 per cent cut by 2030, and supports a net zero target for 2050. Its emissions target cuts are not as ambitious as Labor’s. The Greens want to go further still, vowing to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2035 or sooner.

As well as deep cuts to emissions, Labor is promising a suite of other clean energy policies that would help decarbonise Victoria’s energy sector. As well as reincarnating the SEC to oversee $1 billion in renewable energy projects, Labor would support the construction of Australia’s first offshore wind farms, create Australia’s biggest energy storage targets, build 100 community batteries across the state and encourage more batteries, solar and wind farms.

The Coalition has made a welcome pledge to offer rebates to one million homes to install household batteries, and offered to double the solar and battery rebates for rental properties. But any policy credibility was undermined by leader Matthew Guy’s “Victorian gas for Victorians” pledge, which would see new gas extracted and then reserved for household and manufacturing use within the state.

This policy, which is legally and technically questionable, would increase Victoria’s carbon emissions and do nothing to ameliorate soaring gas prices, which are a genuine concern but pegged to globally determined prices. Experts also say it would take years to develop new gas fields – time we don’t have. The International Energy Agency has made it clear there can be no new coal, oil or gas developed if the global energy sector is to reach net zero by 2050 and help avoid catastrophic climate change.

Environmentally-minded voters should investigate the electoral offerings of the Greens, the teals and other local independent candidates. But if you’re choosing between the major parties, Labor’s policy is based on the global consensus for change, and provides the most realistic path to reach the challenging goal of energy transition.

Michael Bachelard sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

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