NEW YORK: The results of the Australian election this Saturday will set the climate agenda for one of the planet’s worst per-capita CO2 emitters. It comes as the world faces a rapidly closing window to stop the most severe impacts of climate change. The country, dubbed a “wrecker” at climate change negotiations, is a major exporter of fossil fuels, largely to East Asia and India. It has been criticised for grossly insufficient climate targets by the UK and US as well as its neighbouring Pacific nations who could see their homes disappear as sea levels rise.
At the same time, polls clearly show voters back stronger climate action in the “sunburned land,” having already experienced deadly and costly flooding and wildfires linked to climate change in recent years. Some big businesses, once against emissions cuts, have also done a U-turn on climate policy. The country is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.
“Australians are feeling and seeing climate damage now and that’s why most Australians are very worried about climate change and want the government to do a lot more than they are,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).
Despite public support, the major parties vying for votes in the tight election have barely mentioned the issue in their campaigns, said Peter Christoff, senior research fellow with Melbourne Climate Futures, which is part of the University of Melbourne. “And that’s really quite concerning and worrying,” said Christoff. Since 2007, Australia’s two major parties, the center-left Labor Party and the conservative Liberal Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have been in an open war over climate change policies, leading to multiple leaders being toppled. “The public vitriol in political exchanges — particularly over an emissions trading scheme and a price on carbon and carbon taxes — led to some of the ugliest politics we’ve seen in Australia over a 15-year period,” said Christoff.
Labor believes it lost the supposedly unlosable “climate election” in 2019 to the Liberals because of a backlash against its strong climate policies and job fears in key seats in coal-mining areas.
Australia is the world’s second biggest coal exporter. And because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rising coal prices mean Australia will likely earn 100 billion Australian dollars ($70 billion) in one year from coal. Meanwhile, between 100,000 and 300,000 Australian jobs connected to coal, oil and gas are at risk if the country doesn’t prepare for the shift away from fossil fuels, according to a study by independent Australian think tank, the Centre for Policy Development.
To date, the conservatives have stymied significant action on climate change — blocking a major emissions trading scheme, slashing funding on climate research, subsidising and allowing fossil fuel production to expand and abolishing the government-funded Climate Commission.
At the 2021 UN climate conference in Glasgow, the government refused to budge from its 2030 emission cuts of 26% to 28% on 2005 levels — one of the weakest targets in the developed world. The UN Climate Action Tracker rates Australia’s emissions and net-zero targets as “poor” and “highly insufficient,” putting it on a path to more than 3 degrees Celsius warming. Going into the 2022 election, the Liberal Party pledged to go net-zero by 2050, but has given itself scope to ignore this. At the same time, it has vowed to continue exports of Australia’s coal and gas past 2050 and has included these fossil fuels in its domestic energy blueprint.
This article was provide by Deutsche Welle