Labor would reintroduce an emissions trading system if it wins the July election, putting pressure on the government to match its ambitious emission reduction goals and forcing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to revisit his controversial former support for an ETS.
The opposition on Wednesday unveiled its slate of climate change and environmental policies, including a broad emissions trading scheme and lowering caps on allowed emissions, with the target of reducing Australia's emissions by 45 percent on 2005 levels by the year 2030. It is one of Labor's biggest pitches of the campaign so far, and stands in contrast to the government's commitment to a maximum 28 percent emissions reduction. Full details of Labor's plan can be found here.
"[Labor's plan] will deliver 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Our plan is underpinned by a pollution reduction target of net zero pollution by 2050," Labor leader Bill Shorten said in a statement.
"Labor's plan for an Emissions Trading Scheme with access to international carbon offsets does not and will not include a carbon tax or a fixed price on pollution."
Labor's announcement will put the Prime Minister in a bind. It comes just days after cabinet ministers cast doubt on the notion of climate change, with George Brandis ("It doesn't seem to me that the science is settled at all") and Fiona Nash ("I think there's varying views on whether it's settled or not") publicly airing their doubts.
It will also force Turnbull to either agree with opposition policy, or disagree with himself. In 2010, when the then-Labor government introduced an emissions trading scheme, backbencher Turnbull famously and controversially crossed the floor to vote with Labor and abandon his own party.
"The proposed ETS is a balanced, substantive and timely step forward on an issue of immense importance, and by relying so heavily on market forces to address this very severe, challenging problem, the ETS is far more in the great traditions of modern liberalism than any other available policy response," Turnbull said in parliament, explaining his motives for splitting with his own party.
Turnbull's support for greater action on climate change was one of the major factors in his toppling as Liberal leader in December 2009. Six days after he was replaced by Tony Abbott, Turnbull wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald bluntly titled 'Abbott's climate change policy is bulls**t.'
While Labor's policy is more far-reaching than the government's announced policies, it has been criticised for not addressing coal mines -- such as Queensland's large, recently-approved Adani development, which impacts the Great Barrier Reef -- by the Australian Conservation Foundation.
"ACF is disappointed Labor's policy does not rule out new coal mines. If one particular proposed coal mine – Adani's massive Carmichael project – proceeds, it will create billions of tonnes of pollution, contributing massively to climate change," said the ACF's CEO, Kelly O'Shanassy, in a statement.
"Cutting pollution from coal-fired power stations and coal mines, and supporting clean energy, should be key issues for all parties at this federal election."
The government has already begun to criticise the Labor policy, with Environment Minister Greg Hunt sending out two critical tweets.
When we scrapped the #CarbonTax, electricity prices had the largest fall on record. Bill Shorten wants to hike them back up again.— Greg Hunt (@GregHuntMP) April 26, 2016
In March, the government announced a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund to "support emerging technologies make the leap from demonstration to commercial deployment." The government has also not ruled out continuing the Abbott administration's policy of direct action, or giving polluters financial incentives to reduce their emissions.