The concern within Labor ranks over climate policy comes as senior ministers in the Morrison government tied themselves in knots over whether they would take a long-term emissions reduction target to the Glasgow global climate change summit in November.
Mr Albanese promised in a major climate policy speech on Friday that a Labor government would set a net zero emissions target to make Australia carbon neutral by the middle of the century, which he said would create jobs and grow the economy.
He ruled out the use of carryover credits to meet Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent to meet the 2030 Paris agreement.
Paterson MP Meryl Swanson, whose regional electorate north of Newcastle takes in a huge swathe of coal workers, will lead a regional jobs taskforce which Mr Albanese said would inform Labor’s policy.
Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler said Labor would release a “detailed package” of industry transition policy “well before the next election”.
But Labor right faction leader and Hunter Valley MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the party must have a plan to ensure the low emission transition doesn’t cut jobs and hike energy costs, saying a 2050 target provided time to develop carbon capture technology.
“The aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2050 offers a conservative and low risk path for three reasons,” he said.
“First, it provides plenty of time to embrace new technologies. Second, it stands a chance of securing bipartisanship and broader community support. Third, it turns the focus to our efforts to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and away from too great a singular focus on reducing emissions.”
The comments come after Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel earlier this month called for the nation to kickstart its hydrogen industry by focusing on production from fossil fuels combined with carbon capture and storage technologies.
Another senior member of Labor’s Right faction, who did not want to be named, warned the party would face another successful scare campaign from the government if it did not develop credible a jobs plan and energy policy.
The MP said the party needed to be able to answer how much the policy would cost, otherwise it will be “2019 all over again”, referring to former leader Bill Shorten’s failure to to nominate a dollar figure during last year’s election campaign for his climate target.
Other MPs said Mr Albanese made the correct move to announce the longer-term target first, and wait until closer to the next election to unveil the 2030 target.
Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood said the argument that Labor needed to wait until closer to the election before announcing shorter-term targets did not hold up because the goal was to set a broad direction.
“The energy policy in today’s world needs to be integrated with the climate policy. You have to connect it with maintaining the reliability of the electricity system,” Mr Wood said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would not commit to any emissions target beyond the 2030 Paris target, but would soon release a technology road map outlining a strategy to use various forms of renewable energy and storage to lower emissions.
“Our climate action agenda is a practical one, it goes beyond targets and summits and it’s driven by technology, not taxation,” Mr Morrison said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government “will be finalising a longer-term target in time” for the Glasgow talks — but Energy Minister Angus Taylor said it would be “a long-term strategy” and repeatedly declined to say whether it would be a target.
Former deputy prime minister and prominent Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said the net zero target would mean “we go on a dramatic path of removing your job from regional areas, exporting your manufacturing jobs from the westerns suburbs, shutting down your mining jobs in Central Queensland and the Hunter Valley and putting pressures on one of Australia’s largest exports, coal”.
Pep Canadell, a senior research scientist for CSIRO and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, said while he was not critical of the Morrison government’s technology strategy a government-set net zero target would be a “remarkable achievement”.
“Labor is going above and beyond what Australia has been asked to do under the Paris agreement,” Dr Canadell said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the net zero target was “increasingly widely supported by Australian businesses, industry advocates such as Ai Group, the wider community and governments of all complexions”.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.