Australia’s opposition Labor party said in an election policy on Tuesday that it would evaluate the National Electricity Market and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Reuters report. Labor said it would ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and facilitating reductions in Australian emissions.

The policy included a focus on the National Electricity Market, which was launched in December 1998 and which sets a spot price for power in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

“The National Electricity Market was expected to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions as it drove efficiencies within the industry. This has not been achieved,” it said.

Labor said it would look at evaluating the market to review the impact it has had on the environment, and look at removing barriers to low emission technologies and providing incentives for cutting emissions.

But the policy acknowledged the importance of coal as a major energy source for the foreseeable future.

Coal is the most important source of power for electricity generation, and will remain vital in the future, according to Labor’s policy statement. It is in finding cleaner and more efficient ways of using coal, along with other fuel sources, that Australia can maintain its competitive advantage and secure regional jobs while at the same time reducing greenhouse emissions.

“Although it is not necessarily desirable to increase our dependency on fossil fuels, cleaner coal use will be a part of our future competitive advantage,” Labor said.

“A revitalised approach to cleaner technologies can bring long-term job security to areas such as the La Trobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.”

Labor said it would require electricity retailers to provide fuel source and emission disclosure on individual electricity bills.

It said it would also review the renewable energy legislation, which requires retailers to source an extra 9 500 GWh of power by 2010, to assess whether it would extend the programme.

The policy said it would promote regulation and incentives to ensure gas-fired generators used state-of-the art turbines and technology and said it would encourage energy use efficiency across a range of areas.

Australia has committed under the Kyoto Protocol to limit its emissions by eight per cent from 1990 levels by 2010. But from 1990 to 1998 greenhouse gas emission from Australia’s electricity sector, which is dominated by brown and black coal, leapt 31 per cent. Overall greenhouse gas emissions rose 17 per cent.

The policy said Labor would look at introducing a voluntary emissions trading programme and ensure any policies did not disadvantage early movers.

Australia contributes a relatively low 1.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, Labor believes that the failure of the world as a whole to reduce emissions will have a significant impact on Australia out of proportion to our small contribution to the problem.

The Australian EcoGeneration Association welcomed the commitment to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

“Contrary to what a few greenhouse sceptics say, ratification will not make Australian industry uncompetitive nor will it double electricity prices,” AEA executive director Ric Brazzale said.