'Irrelevant': Labor frontbencher says no use focusing on 2030 emissions target

Katharine Murphy Political editor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Labor’s resources spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, says an emissions reduction target for 2030 has become “irrelevant”. He’s also declined to say whether the opposition should adopt a concrete commitment for 2035.

Fitzgibbon told the ABC on Sunday Labor’s climate change policy for the next federal election would be “meaningful”, but he said a mid-century target of net zero emissions would now be the opposition’s focus.

Related: Eden-Monaro byelection: Labor tipped to win NSW seat but yet to claim victory

Fitzgibbon has previously advocated for Labor to adopt the same 2030 target as the Morrison government in an attempt to reset the carbon wars that have persisted for a decade, but he didn’t double down on that position on Sunday.

Instead, he said the trajectory of emissions reduction would not be “linear”, while declining to be drawn on whether Labor should set an interim target. “We will continue to have conversations as we develop our policies”.

He said it would be difficult to adopt an ambitious interim target because “Scott Morrison has allowed those emissions to flatline now for seven years”. He said Labor would take a meaningful policy to the next election, “but we will take a policy which can be embraced by the majority of the Australian people”.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has made it clear Labor will set an interim emissions reduction target before the next election that is consistent with scientific advice. Albanese made the commitment after a speech to the National Press Club last month which included an overture to Scott Morrison to reach a bipartisan consensus on an energy policy mechanism.

But while Labor is united on the mid-century strategy, Fitzgibbon’s comments on Sunday reflect internal division about whether the party should set a target for the 2030s. While a majority of MPs favour meaningful climate action, there is a view in some quarters of the right that promising a more ambitious interim target will give the Coalition opportunity to weaponise climate change against Labor in the regions, and in central and north Queensland seats.

Albanese has begun the process of resetting Labor’s position on climate change post-election and the shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, has made it clear that Labor will set an interim target consistent with scientific advice.

In an interview after the 2019 election loss, with the internal debate already under way about the role climate change policy played in the defeat, Butler said Labor would implement the Paris agreement, look for policies to keep warming below 2C, move to net zero emissions by 2050 and set medium-term emissions reduction targets “that are consistent with these principles and guided by the best available scientific and economic advice”.

It is possible that Labor will look to commit to a target in 2035 rather than 2030 because the starting point for the abatement will be 2022 rather than 2019, but the policy is yet to be resolved.

Related: Stop making sense: why it's time to get emotional about climate change | Rebecca Huntley

Albanese’s public commitment on the medium-term target was unequivocal last month, but Fitzgibbon declared on Sunday he was the leader capable of setting the ALP on “the right path”.

Fitzgibbon, who hails from the New South Wales right, said Albanese, since taking the leadership post-election, had been attentive in speaking to the party’s blue-collar base, had been talking about “the importance of coalmines” and the resources sector, and “using his headland speeches to talk lots about jobs and job security, re-calibrating our climate change policy, so that we are left with a policy which is meaningful, but a policy capable of taking the majority of the Australian people with us on that journey – and therefore capable of winning us an election”.