OPPOSITION Leader Bill Shorten is set to unveil a bold climate policy goal requiring half of Australia's large-scale energy production to be generated using renewable sources within 15 years.
Fairfax Media has learnt that despite Labor's humiliating 2013 election defeat, caused in part by voter contempt for its carbon tax, Mr Shorten will use this weekend's ALP national conference in Melbourne to announce the even more ambitious goal, dramatically beefing up Labor's renewable energy target.
The policy shift is designed to recover green support, sharpen the contrast with Prime Minister Tony Abbott over climate change and make global warming the defining battleground of the next federal election.
The new target for baseload energy represents a more-than-doubling of the green sector in just over a decade.
It would slash domestic coal consumption while simultaneously improving Australia's overall emissions performance and allowing Labor t to introduce a significantly milder starting carbon price for its yet-to-be-outlined emissions trading scheme.
A Labor insider conceded a stronger renewables sector would "relieve pressure" for an aggressive ETS, clearing the way for a "soft start" rather than the politically disastrous high-fixed-price approach adopted in 2012.
But in a sign of the political sensitivities of climate policy, the weekend announcement will be accompanied by a restated commitment that Labor will never again introduce a fixed carbon price.
The move reflects Mr Shorten's determination not to be intimidated by what he has called "ridiculous scare campaigns" by the Coalition, which has claimed Labor would revive a jobs and confidence-destroying carbon tax.
It also reveals the Labor leader's assessment that tough climate policy is required if the economy is to be restructured and his party is to present itself as the only mainstream alternative for voters worried about global warming.
Stark contrast to silence
The target of at least 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 is in contrast to Labor's current platform, which is silent on the subject. Both sides of politics committed only to the current benchmark of a minimum 33,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020.
That equates to about 23.5 per cent of current electricity production, meaning the renewables sector, which is mainly wind turbines as well as solar, would have to virtually double in size in the following decade.
Labor's previous long-term renewable target, outlined for the 2010 election, committed it to "40 per cent of generation in 2050" whereas this policy goes harder at 50 per cent and over a much shorter time-frame of just15 years rather than 40.
Mr Shorten confirmed the policy when approached by Fairfax Media, branding his renewables policy the "centre-piece of our response to the challenge of climate change".
"Labor's ambition is to see 50 per cent of our electricity energy mix generated by renewable energy by 2030," he said.
"We will take steps to reduce pollution, and we will not be intimidated by ridiculous scare campaigns.
"Let me make this clear: Labor will not introduce a carbon tax (but) we will have sensible policies designed to reduce pollution over time, with minimal impact on households and businesses."
These will include an emissions trading scheme "using market forces (and) linked to international markets".
The decision to go hard on climate change sets up an intriguing political contest with the Abbott government in the next federal election, which could come as early as the last part of 2015 but which is due in any event by spring of 2016.
However, while Mr Shorten's personal numbers have been heading in the wrong direction for some months now in published opinion polls, Mr Abbott's stated preference of running full term has been reinforced by those same polls which have shown Labor is consistently ahead of the Coalition on a two-party-preferred basis.
A Newspoll released on Tuesday put primary support for the ALP at a relatively healthy 39 per cent, up from 37 per cent a fortnight ago and 5 percentage points up from its 34 per cent in mid-June.
The government has remained steady at 40 per cent all year, but that is not enough of the vote to overcome a combined Labor-Greens vote after preferences of 53-47 in Labor's favour.
The 50 per cent renewables mandate would propel Australia towards the top of the list of environment-conscious economies, with Denmark committed to the same target but by 2020, and California aiming also at 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
But Australia would still lag behind New Zealand, which is aiming at 90 per cent renewable by 2025, and Germany, which is pitching for 55 to 60 per cent by 2035.
Last year, fossil fuels — black coal, brown coal, gas — accounted for 86.53 per cent of energy production while renewables — wind, solar, hydro and others — accounted for 13.47 per cent at 16,000 gigawatt hours for the year.
The Abbott government is yet to announce its post-2020 emissions reduction target but that is expected in August.
The Shorten approach follows a strong and well-co-ordinated campaign inside the ALP by a group calling itself the Environment Action Network and backing a "50/50" campaign in favour of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.