MONDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2020
MARK BUTLER: Good evening Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You’ve said you want to be a net zero emissions country by 2050, but that’s thirty years away. When will you say where emissions should be in 2030 or 2040?
BUTLER: Well the first point, we thought, given that we’re now a quarter of the way through the Parliamentary term, as Anthony Albanese had said “we’ve reviewed all of our policies, everything’s up for review”, was to state very clearly what the core pillars of climate policy for Labor are. And the first of those core pillars are a commitment to the Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below the dangerous levels of 2 degrees threshold.
This is an agreement that the Turnbull government signed on behalf of Australia with the rest of the world and you can’t be serious about the Paris Agreement without committing to net zero emissions by 2050. That’s been made very clear by the proponents of the Agreement, the writers of the Agreement, by our own scientific agencies, and by a range of other governments both internationally as well as every single state and territory government here in Australia.
So we’ve set down that pillar and we’ve now said to businesses, to farmers, to workers and their trade unions, to regional communities, we now want to spend a good period of time talking to you about the detail of our climate policy between those two pillars that we’ll put to the Australian people well before the next election.
KARVELAS: Do you accept that if sufficient work hasn’t been done to lower emissions by 2030 then Australia will face a huge economic shock trying to get to zero in twenty years?
BUTLER: Well the longer we leave this task the harder it is and the more burden we simply shift to our children and our grandchildren. That’s very clear. What is clear, because really the task of emissions reduction ground to an enormous halt when Tony Abbott was elected, we’ve only reduced emissions in the last twenty years by 0.3 per cent. They came down by about 15 per cent in our six years in government and they’ve ground to a halt ever since, so we’re a long way from meeting our Kyoto commitment of a 5 per cent cut by this year. We’ll only have achieved a 0.3 per cent cut, barely a rounding error. The longer we leave this task the more we’re simply shifting the responsibility to our kids and I just think that’s something that we should never do.
KARVELAS: So that’s the argument you’re making now, but in terms of what will happen for 2030, how will Labor deal with that dilemma of how to accelerate in those intervening years?
BUTLER: Well that’s something that we want to talk to those groups I talked about earlier, to farmers, to businesses, to our scientists, to people who are thinking very carefully about what role Australia has to play in the global effort to make sure that climate change does not exceed those dangerous thresholds, does not put our children and our grandchildren in a position where they’re facing emergencies even worse than the ones that we’ve been facing over the course of this summer.
KARVELAS: The Energy Minister Angus Taylor says that it’s silly to have a target without a plan to reach the target – don’t you need a plan so voters can decide if it’s credible? This is a credibility issue, given the last election. You faced similar questions about how much it would cost and how it would look.
BUTLER: Well of course we need a plan, that’s why we’ve put those core pillars out only a quarter of the way through the Parliamentary term and made the commitment to develop that plan in close consultation, talking to and listening to businesses and farmers, workers and their trade unions, to regional communities over the coming months so that we have that detail. It’s not me sitting down with a pad of paper over a weekend and writing a plan, it’s making sure that this is a plan that reflects the views of the Australian community. And frankly coming from Angus Taylor, a government that had no climate plan before the last election, still has no climate plan, pretends that they’re meeting the Kyoto Protocol commitment, the 2030 commitment under the Paris Agreement, when actually emissions reduction has ground to an absolute halt under this government.
KARVELAS: Do you think it’s realistic that Labor could back the 26 to 28 percent reduction for 2030 that the government’s committed to?
BUTLER: Well I’ve said since Tony Abbott really plucked that number out of the air that it didn’t reflect any scientific advice provided to the government or to the Parliament. That the 26 per cent target by 2030 is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris Agreement and every expert that’s looked and modelled that target would agree that it is a target consistent with 3 degrees of global warming, which would be utterly catastrophic for the planet, but particularly for a vulnerable continent like Australia. That’s why we’ve argued against this target.
KARVELAS: If Labor accepts that the world needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and that is the rationale for this policy, don’t you also have to say that you are going to phase out fossil fuel exports?
BUTLER: We are the world’s biggest exporter of coal and the biggest exporter now of natural gas as well. As a result, we are exposed to action that will be taken by the rest of the world around the consumption of coal and gas. But, at the end of the day, what happens to our coal export mines for example in New South Wales and Queensland, is not going to be determined by decisions in Canberra. It will be determined by decisions taken in the capital cities of our major trading partners, in boardrooms around the world and dependent upon advances in technology, for industries like steel-making. We’ve got to be honest about that. We’ve got control over our own emissions. But what happens to coal-fired generation in China or India or Japan is not going to be shaped by decisions taken in Canberra.
KARVELAS: So it is your view just as the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has said that those exports can go on and on and on and there is no role for Labor to have about closing them down?
BUTLER: The point I’ve made consistently, and the point Anthony has made, is those decisions won’t be taken in Australia they will be taken overseas. Now if the world is going to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement to stay well-below 2 degrees of global warming then the whole world is going to transition to clean energy.
KARVELAS: Right so they can’t be buying these exports if we are going to get there, am I right?
BUTLER: Those are decisions that will be taken overseas and are already being taken by boardrooms around the world.
KARVELAS: But logically it has to be a global net zero so realistically level with people –
BUTLER: It’s a global agreement. I’ve been very clear about this.
KARVELAS: But you can’t keep buying these exports and reach zero net emissions, can you?
BUTLER: Well if we are to achieve the Paris Agreement and net zero emissions as a globe by the middle of the century, then the whole world is going to shift to clean energy. How quickly that happens will depend upon decisions taken in different countries that are at different stages of their economic development. They are not going to be determined and shaped by decisions taken in Canberra. Our job is to look after our own emissions and also to recognise that communities will be impacted by decisions taken in other countries over the course of coming decades and to be alive to that.
KARVELAS: Will a target to stop exporting coal and LNG eventually be a part of Labor’s climate change policy?
BUTLER: As I said, this is ultimately something that depends upon demand – not decisions taken by Canberra. That is just how the emissions accounting rules operate. What happens to our coal mines on the eastern seaboard, what happens to our natural gas export operations, will be determined by decisions from those countries about the speed with which they transition from those fossil fuel energy systems to a clean energy system.
KARVELAS: But you would be wanting them as someone who believes in the climate science, you would want them to be phased out by 2050 surely?
BUTLER: The 195 nations of the world signed onto an agreement in 2015 to keep global warming well-below 2C degrees and to pursue efforts around a 1.5 degree threshold. If we are to achieve that global commitment then the whole globe will be shifting to clean energy over the course of coming decades. That is clear.
KARVELAS: Mark Butler thank you so much for joining us.
BUTLER: Thanks Patricia.