Climate Change Is Taking The Spotlight In Australia’s Election

Australia Labor party leader Bill Shorten. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICK RYCROFT
Australia Labor party leader Bill Shorten. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICK RYCROFT

Australia hasn’t exactly been seen as a leader on climate policy in recent years: Former prime minister Tony Abbott once called climate change “absolute crap,” and current Prime Minister Malcolm Turbull hasn’t delivered the about-face on climate that many environmentalists had hoped for. But that could change with this year’s election.

On Wednesday, Australia’s Labor Party, the main opposition to the country’s current Turbull-led coalition government, announced a plan to tackle climate change that’s more ambitious than the country’s current approach. Under the Labor Party, Australia would work to decrease emissions 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, compared with the current pledge to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels. A ruling Labor party would also implement a country-wide emissions trading scheme and would set a goal of getting 50 percent of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2030.

“The consequences of refusing to take meaningful action on climate change will be devastating for Australia and our economy,” Labor party leader Bill Shorten said. “While senior ministers in the Liberal government are still disputing whether the ‘science is settled’ on climate change, Labor knows it is.”

That reference to cabinet members questioning climate change is timely — about a week ago, two members of Australia’s cabinet cast doubt on whether the science of climate change is settled. Fiona Nash, deputy leader of the Nationals Party — which, along with the Liberal party, forms Australia’s Coalition government — said last week that she didn’t think the science was “necessarily settled” on climate change, though she did add that she thinks the country should take precautions to make sure the environment is healthy. Attorney General George Brandis also cast doubt on climate science, saying “there are a number of views about the two questions of the nature and the causes of climate change.” Climate scientists, on the other hand, are in consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.


Record-Breaking Hot Ocean Temperatures Are Frying The Great Barrier ReefThe Great Barrier Reef’s coral is dying, and it may never be the same again. Last month, as historically high ocean…thinkprogress.orgThe Labor Party’s climate plans should come as good news to those who think Australia should be doing more on climate change. Under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who led the country between 2013 and 2015, climate policy suffered. Abbott’s government rolled back much of the progress the country had made prior to 2013, cutting the country’s carbon tax and getting rid of the Climate Commission, an independent panel of experts that do research on how climate change impacts Australia (and which later came back as a privately-funded organization). Under Abbott, Australia was named the “worst-performing industrial country” on climate change in 2014.

The Abbott government announced its emissions reductions pledges last year — reductions of 26 to 28 percent by 2030 that Abbott said aren’t leading developing nations but aren’t lagging either. But under Turnbull, Australia hasn’t seen the change in climate policy that many environmentalists had hoped for. And in some ways, Australia’s climate change efforts have struggled under Turnbull’s government: In February, the government cut 110 climate scientist jobs from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) because, according to the head of the scientific agency, basic climate research was no longer needed.

Still, as the Huffington Post points out, a Labor government likely won’t be a cure-all for the country’s climate and environmental policy. The Australian Conservation Foundation told the news site that the Labor party should do more to address coal mines in the country, including the yet-to-be-built Carmichael coal mine, which Greenpeace says will be a “complete disaster for the climate and the Great Barrier Reef.” “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,” the ACF’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said 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.”

Acting on climate change isn’t just a global responsibility for Australia: it’s a local imperative. The country has seen its fair share of climate impacts over the last several years, including record-breaking heat and wildfires. Most recently, wildfires ravaged a World Heritage forest in Tasmania. Several groups have called for an official inquiry into those fires to determine how to prevent similar events from destroying forests in the future.

Right now, the Labor party has a four-point lead over the Coalition government, with the election set for July 2.