The clean energy target recommended by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, was designed so future governments could ratchet up the ambition of the emissions cuts, Finkel has said on the ABC’s Q&A program.

Labor’s climate and energy spokesman, Mark Butler, indicated that Labor would do exactly that, if the mechanism was instituted and they then won government.

In a landmark report to the Council of Commonwealth Governments last week, Finkel recommended the government adopt a clean energy target, which would make energy users subsidise cleaner forms of electricity generation.

But, in the report, Finkel modelled that mechanism with a target of just 28% reductions in emissions from the electricity sector by 2030, which he said was “as per Australia’s international obligations under the Paris agreement”, and said deeper cuts would require another review.

That advice came under fire, since to achieve a 28% cut in emissions across the entire economy, as Australia committed to in Paris, it is widely agreed much deeper cuts are needed in the electricity sector.

The chief executive of the Climate Council, Amanda McKenzie, levelled this criticism at the report.

“It doesn’t go far enough,” she said. “It doesn’t get emissions down as far as they need to go.”

She also said it needed to drive coal-fired power stations to be retired sooner and needed to ensure renewable energy made up more than 50% of the mix by 2030.

But a member of the audience commented: “The important thing is bipartisan support first and if Mark [Butler] is fortunate enough to win government he can ratchet it up.”

Butler said: “That’s the plan.”

Asked by host Tony Jones to explain further, Butler said: “To get Josh…