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EXPERT REACTION: Labor's 2019 climate policy

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has today unveiled Labor's climate change policy — the plan it will use to reach its target of cutting emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and ensure half of Australia's energy comes from renewable sources by 2050.

Organisation/s: Griffith University, The University of Western Australia, The University of Adelaide, The University of Queensland

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Professor Graham Nathan is Director of the Centre for Energy Technology at The University of Adelaide

The University of Adelaide’s Centre for Energy Technology welcome Labor’s announcement to establish a Strategic Industries taskforce and a $300m fund to support our emissions intensive, trade-exposed industries such as steel, cement and alumina in finding solutions to cut pollution and remain competitive. Our recent HiTeMP forum, engaging more than 100 specialists from industry, research and policy, found that new market opportunities are already emerging for the export of certified low-carbon products from this sector and that new technologies are already under development to enable this transformation to begin. There is great potential for Australia to benefit from the emerging new economy in this sector, due to our coincidence of abundant renewable and mineral resources.  However, significant investment and a long-term plan will be needed to achieve it, together with a consistent government policy agenda, owing to the long life and capital-intensive nature of these processes, together with the need to develop and demonstrate the new technologies at commercial scale.

Last updated: 03 Apr 2019 1:11pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Jake Whitehead is from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Queensland (UQ)

Not only are transport emissions continuing to increase in Australia, but emissions from transport are having significant health impacts on the Australian community, with up to the equivalent of 5 lives lost each day due to vehicle pollution, which is 40% more than road accident fatalities,” he said.

Even when charged using the existing electricity grid, the average EV can reduce emissions by 30%, and eliminate exhaust pollution from urban areas.

“In the future, it may even be possible to use EVs as mobile batteries, exporting electricity back to the grid when renewable generation drops. If every car in Australia was an EV, that combined battery storage would be enough to power the entire country for 24 hours, while still meeting the average daily transport needs.

“A number of other transformational transport technologies will also develop over the coming decade, including autonomous and shared vehicles, as well as drones and electric planes.

Last updated: 02 Apr 2019 3:42pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor William Laurance is director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (TESS) at James Cook University

Labor’s push for electric cars is great so long as they’ll be run on renewable energy, not fossil fuels.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Coal, in particular, is the dirtiest of all fuels in terms of carbon emissions -- and almost 60 percent of Australia’s electricity currently comes from burning coal.  And to be clear, there’s no such thing as ‘clean coal’—it’s a total oxymoron.  Every time an Australian politician advocates ‘clean coal’, a giant fist should come flying out of the blue and knock them straight off our TV screens.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 5:45pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Zoran Ristovski is Research Director in the School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering at Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

If this is done with a fleet that is predominantly battery operated, such fleet needs to obtain its energy (power) from the mains electrical grid. If the power generated in the main grid is from non-renewable sources such as coal overall GHG emissions will be larger than for a new technology diesel or petrol vehicle. In addition the emissions that would come from the tailpipe of diesel/petrol vehicles are just displaced to a power plant in the case of electric vehicles. Only if we significantly increase the contribution of renewable low to zero emission power sources to our electricity generation will the electric vehicles come to its full potential.

Taking into account the resources we have in Australia for renewable fuels we should continue investing into development and implementation of biofuels as a transient solution to electric based transport sector.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 4:17pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Ian Mackinnon is from the Institute for Future Environments at Queensland University of Technology

We hope the type of electric vehicle considered includes fuel cell electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles. The focus of attention by existing media announcements seems to be that ‘battery operated’ are the only electric vehicles on the market. A diversity of energy options for transportation – each of which have zero or exceptionally low carbon emissions – is a sign of a healthy economy and healthy economic policy.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 3:51pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

As an oil importing country with no domestic car manufacturing industry, Australia is well placed to make the shift to electric vehicles proposed by Labor. A crucial step towards this goal will be the restructuring of the National Electricity Market, and the design of charging infrastructure to encourage flexible recharging of electric vehicles to match peaks in the availability of renewable energy.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 2:54pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Thomas Bräunl is Director of the Renewable Energy Vehicle Project at The University of Western Australia (UWA)

Labor’s proposed electric vehicle (EV) targets and incentives are a long overdue step in the right direction to reduce vehicle emissions. 

It has been confirmed in several independent studies that more people die from vehicle emissions than from road accidents, so the time to act is now.

A high uptake of EVs will improve Australia’s air quality and its general population health.
EV targets and government incentives help, as can be seen in Europe and the US, where most countries have already 2% EVs in the general vehicle fleet, versus only 0.2% in Australia.

An Australian EV target of 50% for 2030 would be in line with other countries, such as South Korea (30% by 2025), Norway and the Netherlands (100% by 2025) and the UK and France (100% by 2040).

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 2:53pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Michael Young is Research Chair in Water and Environmental Policy at The University of Adelaide.

The biggest opportunity identified by Labor is its commitment to retain the cap on emissions, reduce these over time and allow trading in credits.

This makes it possible to phase in a state of the art climate sharing scheme or, as some prefer to think of it, a state of the art emissions trading scheme.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 2:43pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Ian Lowe is Emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, Qld and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The ALP climate change policy is not perfect, but it is very much better than the current government’s approach. It has a more ambitious overall target and eschews the creative accounting the government is relying on to disguise its failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A 45 per cent reduction in emissions is, however, still not doing our share to slow global warming.

Bringing in vehicle emissions standards and encouraging electric vehicles are very welcome changes. While there has been some political attention to electricity generation, our greenhouse gas emissions from transport are still increasing rapidly. The government’s so-called congestion-busting plan, funding road schemes that are mostly in marginal electorates, is using public funds to reinforce a hopeless strategy. No city in the world has ever solved its transport problem by building roads. The standards proposed are not radical, being in line with the US levels rather than European regulations, but they are a start. 

The crackdown on big polluters is very welcome.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 2:42pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Graham Currie is Director of Monash Infrastructure, Chair of Public Transport, Professor in Transport Engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University

The hype about autonomous and electric vehicles solving the world’s mobility problems, at the expense of public transport, is a gigantic load of nonsense.

As a researcher in this field, my emotions tend to boil over rather easily when discussing the merits of public transport versus autonomous vehicles.

Traffic congestion has now become a global issue, not just for environmental reasons. Car traffic brings significant impacts to communities, especially on urban liveability, including the separation of urban centres by busy roads and creating further social disadvantage.

By 2020, traffic congestion will cost the Australian economy more than $20 billion.

But from where is the solution to this problem going to come?

The truth is that transit systems are the only option available for shared occupancy at the volume needed and the quality provided that can meet the need of large and growing cities.

Last updated: 01 Apr 2019 2:42pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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