Shorten says Australia should have net zero emissions by 2050

Labor’s latest policy announcement sharply differentiates its climate stand from the Coalition’s. Lukas Coch/AAP

Labor will commit to the goal of Australia achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and embrace the ambitious target of cutting emissions by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030.

Unveiling the opposition’s policy positions ahead of next week’s international climate conference, Bill Shorten on Friday will condemn the 2030 target the government is taking to Paris as “pathetic”.

He will say that within its first year a Labor government, guided by its 2030 and 2050 goals, will announce an emissions reduction target for 2025.

Australia’s pledge for Paris is to reduce emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.

The latest announcement further sharply differentiates Labor’s climate stand from the Coalition’s. It has already committed itself to an emissions trading scheme. The 2030 target will be a test for it with the business community.

Shorten says that achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal. “This means by 2050, every tonne of pollution we produce will need to be balanced by sequestration, offsetting or purchasing.”

It “will demand major technological transitions in a range of industries”.

But changing technology, modernising fuels and embracing clean energy does not mean trading away prosperity, he says in his address for the Lowy Institute.

He points to ClimateWorks modelling based on net zero emissions by 2050 that forecasts the Australian economy would still be 150% larger than now. “With the right plan and the right approach, Australia can lower emissions and lift economic growth. We can cut pollution and create jobs,” Shorten says.

He says achieving net zero emissions would require embracing everything from switching transport, industry and buildings to biofuels, gas and carbon-free electricity to reducing agricultural emissions through better land management, farming practices and increased carbon forestry.

Labor will use the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels as the basis for its consultations with industry, employers, unions and the community.

“We will undertake this process mindful of the consequences for jobs, for regions and for any impacts on households.

"Our target will work in concert with our 2050 objective, and our strategies for managing transitions within particular sectors.”

Environment spokesman Mark Butler will lead the consultations, starting immediately, and report back by March.

“A 45% baseline reduction would be an ambitious target for Australia, particularly on a per capital basis,” Shorten says.

“But we should not shy away from ambition.”

The government’s own modelling found that the economic impact of a 45% target would be minimal.

Labor would support a pledge and review process every five years, to help Australia track its commitments and respond to international action.

Malcolm Turnbull will attend the start of the Paris conference on Monday. Shorten is also going to Paris.

In a swingeing attack on Turnbull, Shorten says Turnbull “is flying to Paris carrying Tony Abbott’s climate sceptic baggage.

"The prime minister will walk onto the aerobridge with a pathetic target in one hand and an expensive joke of a climate policy in the other.”

“The Abbott-Turnbull 2030 target puts Australia at the back of the international pack. It falls well short of Australia’s obligation to help keep warming below 2 degrees on pre-industrial levels,” Shorten says.

“Under Direct Action, it is taxpayers, not polluters, who pay to reduce emissions at a signifiant cost to the budget.”

Shorten says no-one had delivered a more incisive critique of Direct Action than Turnbull who labelled it “an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing”.

“He had the courage to tell the truth when he was a backbencher, with nothing to lose. Yet now, when power is in his grasp and the evidence is in front of his eyes. He cannot admit what he knows in his heart and head to be true.”

Despite the government’s “accounting chicanery” Australia’s emissions are going up not down, Shorten says.