One of the big announcements at Labor’s National Conference was the plan for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. This was a bid to differentiate from Abbott, and the Greens, before the 2016 election. But the devil is in the detail—and the devil here is that there is no detail.

Labor is not promising to increase the Renewable Energy Target—currently set to reach 23.5 per cent by 2020. Their only promise is an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). But an ETS will only encourage speculation and new financial markets, not investment in renewables. This is what happened in Europe, where the price of pollution permits crashed to below €1. An ETS would mean a price on carbon, just like the carbon tax. The main effect, as former Labor Climate Change Minister Greg Combet admitted, would be “bringing on baseload gas-fired electricity generation”, not renewables.

Labor will formulate an “Energy Modernisation Strategy” to review “options for delivering on Labor’s goal of 50 per cent”. But note the word “goal”.

It is entirely likely that the share of renewable energy will increase under a Labor government. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has estimated that, “just the market naturally—without any new policy—will move to 37 per cent renewable by 2030”. But this would have a minimal impact on actual emissions, reducing them by only 9 per cent below 2000 levels. And it is emissions that have to be tackled to prevent climate change.

Shorten has made one thing clear: he will not interfere with the market, or step on the toes of fossil fuel giants. Any renewable energy policies will be based on a “consultative and consensus approach” which minimises the impact on “existing generators and networks”.

One bright spot was a plan to set up, “an agency to oversee redeployment, retraining and income support” for workers in existing fossil fuel industries. More encouraging still is that the CFMEU—the union covering these workers—seconded the resolution, but warned Labor delegates to vote for it “with eyes wide open” because the union would run a concerted campaign to “get what was promised” if Labor does not deliver.

It is only government funding to build renewable energy and green jobs that can deliver. And we need to be prepared to fight both Abbott and a future Labor government to get it.

By Erima Dall

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