Australia's Labor Calls on Government to Cooperate on Climate Policy

By Rob Taylor Features Dow Jones Newswires

CANBERRA, Australia--Australia's opposition Labor Party has sent an olive branch to the conservative government, offering to end years of sparring over climate policy that triggered the ouster of three prime ministers.

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Labor leader Bill Shorten said he had written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with an offer to work together on how to curb greenhouse gas emissions and tackle soaring energy prices, just three years after Australia became the first developed nation to repeal laws putting a price on carbon.

The offer of a bipartisan approach came ahead of a major review of the national electricity grid and energy security conducted by Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel. The review's findings are due be presented to Mr. Turnbull and leaders of the country's eight states and territories on Friday.

"Given energy is the lifeblood of the economy, and investment decisions are taken over 20- and 30-year horizons, we believe it is time to put an end to the 'climate wars' that have thwarted sensible energy policy over recent years," Mr. Shorten said in the letter.

Climate policy remains contentious despite efforts to forge a consensus globally. President Donald Trump recently said he withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord, fulfilling a promise made during the election campaign last year.

Australia's approach to tackling climate change was experienced repeated gyrations. In 2009, then-Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's efforts to set up a cap-and-trade scheme led to his ouster by deputy Julia Gillard. Party infighting culminated in 2013 with Labor's defeat by resurgent conservatives who campaigned on a platform to repeal an unpopular interim levy on carbon.

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Pressure has been mounting on Mr. Turnbull to reconsider climate legislation after an energy crisis last summer triggered multi-day outages across South Australia state, plunging 1.7 million homes into darkness and causing almost 400 million Australian dollars (US$302 million) in business losses.

Dr. Finkel's review is expected to recommend the country adopt a Low Emissions Target, or LET, to accelerate investment in cleaner energy, while also supporting construction of power stations that burn fossil fuels but have technology that minimize emissions. The target, backed by mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., would set a minimum level for energy generation from low-emissions sources.

"After a decade of toxic politics surrounding energy and climate change policy, Australians are looking for both major parties to co-operate on a way forward," Mr. Shorten said.

One of Australia's largest manufacturers, BlueScope Steel Ltd., said an LET was a better option than reviving an emissions-intensity scheme that would penalize ageing coal-fired generators, which continue to underpin much of the country's current energy grid.

"We need multiparty support for a clean energy target that is technology agnostic, that deals with the issues of affordability, security and reliability," BlueScope Chief Executive Paul O'Malley said.

-Write to Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 08, 2017 02:03 ET (06:03 GMT)