Australian elections: Where is climate change on the agenda? | Election News

Canberra, Australia – As southern Australia continues to recover from the devastation of the 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, the cities of Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) have just experienced devastating flooding.

Some cities have even seen ‘once in 100 years’ flooding occur twice in a few weeks. In Lismore, a city in NSW of nearly 30,000 people, the river rose more than 14 meters in late February, breaking through city embankments and inundating people’s homes and businesses. Thousands of residents were forced to take refuge on the roofs of their houses.

Lismore flooded again in March. More than 2,000 homes are now considered uninhabitable.

While Lismore has flooded five times in the last 60 years, this year’s flood was 2 meters above its previous historic high. In NSW and Queensland, 22 people died.

As with the Black Summer wildfires, the federal government has been criticized for being too slow to respond. Locals relied on their own communities to provide essential assistance in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and residents of Lismore then carried their flood-damaged belongings to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s official residence, dumping the broken armchair and soft toy at its gates. Some held placards reading ‘Your inaction on climate kills my neighbour’.

The cost of the flooding is estimated to exceed A$2 billion ($1.44 billion), making it one of the country’s most expensive natural disasters ever.

“Despite decades of warning from scientists about climate change, Australia was not prepared for the supercharged weather that is now happening,” said Hilary Bambrick, co-author of Australia’s annual assessment of climate adaptation progress.

“Australia is at the forefront of severe climate change … Climate change means that Australia’s extreme weather – heat, drought, bushfires and floods – will continue to get worse, much worse if we don’t act now.”

Despite this and voters’ desire to act, climate change is hardly a topic of conversation in the country’s federal election campaign, which will last less than a week on May 21.

“Australians are very worried about climate change,” University of Tasmania political scientist Kate Crowley told Al Jazeera. “But the big parties, especially [ruling] The coalition doesn’t want to talk about climate change. For them, it’s done and cleaned up.

“The coalition has a ‘never’ target and there are no immediate plans to do anything but ensure fossil fuels are in the mix.”

A crew member observes the devastation caused by the flood in Lismore. Government criticized for being too slow in responding to disasters [Bradley Richardson/Australian Defence Force via AFP]

Most politicians in Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition are climate change skeptics, if not outright denials, as well as economically and socially conservative.

Climate writer Ketan Joshi has tracked down politicians’ social media mentions of climate change.

He found that only four percent of tweets from senators and three percent of tweets from lawmakers mentioned climate in the first week of campaigning. Most don’t tweet about climate change at all.

“Tweets are a proxy for discourse,” explains Joshi. “It’s a very simple reading [the issue’s] stands out, and it turns out that even when climate is mentioned in bad faith, it’s still only a small part, a fraction of the discussion.

Joshi believes there are two main reasons for the lack of discussion around climate change.

“One is a problem that doesn’t stand out enough, given its physical urgency,” he said. “The second is that when it’s discussed, there’s always something wrong, as opposed to trying to talk about a very important issue.”

The only time climate change has emerged as a point of serious discussion in recent weeks is when Queensland Citizens Senator Matt Canavan – who claims decisions on climate change can be left for 10 or 20 years – declared net zero as “off” and “on.” the whole bar screams.”

“Canavan actually put climate on the agenda,” explains Crowley. “The coalition is quite happy to ignore the question [on it] and just repeating the policy… After all, they have targets without actually having targets.”

Most voters want action

Poll after poll found that the majority of Australians would like to see the government take serious action in fighting climate change.

National broadcaster ABC runs Vote Compass, the nation’s largest voter attitude survey. In this year’s poll, 29 percent of those surveyed ranked climate change as the most important issue for them. This is higher than any other single problem, even in the face of rising costs of living, of which 13 percent is rated as the biggest problem.

In mid-2021, a YouGov poll conducted for the Australian Conservation Foundation found that climate change was an important issue for 67 per cent of voters, including 28 per cent who said it was the single most important issue in determining who they would vote for.

Crucially, a majority of voters in all 151 Australian federal voters believe that the Scott Morrison government should do more to tackle climate change. Even in a major coal region like the Hunter Valley, voters don’t believe new coal and gas power plants should be built.

Young students demand further action on climate change holding banners reading 'Stop Adani' and 'Climate Action Now'
Students in Sydney went on strike earlier this month to demand further action on climate change. Young Australians are very concerned about climate issues [File: Loren Elliott/Reuters]

The poll also found that young Australians are very concerned about climate change. A 2021 survey from the Foundations For Tomorrow initiative found that 93 per cent of Australians under 30 think the government is doing too little to tackle climate change.

About 88 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 24 are registered to vote, and voting is mandatory in Australia.

Assess policy

Many voters said they felt there was little substantial difference between the Coalition and the Labor Party, which is currently in opposition, particularly on climate change.

The Coalition has set a target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels. To do so, they say they will not move away from heavy polluters such as coal and gas, but instead rely on carbon capture and storage, alongside low-tech technologies. new emission. The exact technology has yet to be determined, in large part because it doesn’t exist yet.

The Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, holds a 43 percent emission reduction target by 2030, still below the expert’s recommended target of 50 to 75 percent. If elected in May, Labor plans to invest heavily in renewable energy, creating more than 600,000 jobs in the process. The workforce also has a detailed strategy to support the transition of workers from fossil fuels to other sectors.

The Coalition and Labor agree that net zero should be achieved by 2050, but both receive a significant contribution from the mining industry, more than any other sector. Like the Liberal Party, the Labor Party will not sign off on a UN pledge to end coal-fired power generation if elected.

Despite some important commitments from energy producers such as AGL to close coal and gas power plants earlier than previously planned, both major political parties have committed to continuing to support fossil fuels.

There are 114 new coal and gas projects on the government’s official list, such as the controversial gas extraction project in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory. Overall, these projects will increase Australia’s emissions by more than 250 per cent.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, shake hands at the third leaders debate of the 2022 federal election campaign in Sydney
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition and Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party continue to support the polluting coal industry, claiming it is an important part of the economy and provides important jobs for the working class. [File: Mick Tsikas/AFP]

Despite public concerns, Australia’s fossil fuel lobby has proven to be very strong, claiming that mining underpins the Australian economy – mining accounts for about 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and employs 261,000 people – and without it, financial disaster would threaten.

The lobby also used class rhetoric to position coal mining as a central element of regional working-class politics, prompting both major parties to see fossil fuels as the winner of the vote.

The Greens – the left-wing environmental party often referred to as Australia’s ‘third party’ – are the only group to argue that Australia needs to do more on the climate. It has set a high 75 percent target for emission reductions by 2030 and wants to achieve net zero by 2035 or earlier, primarily through cessation of mining, burning, and exports of thermal coal by 2030.

Green Party campaign materials describe net zero by 2050 as a “death penalty”. The party is now calling for a moratorium on new coal, gas and oil projects.

“Coal and gas mining and burning are the main causes of the climate crisis,” said Adam Bandt of the Greens of the request.

“Keeping coal and gas on the ground is the first thing governments will do if they are serious about treating global warming like a climate emergency.”

However, one big question remains.

How many voters will really put their climate issue first when it comes to election day?

At the polls, local issues sometimes seem much more pressing.

A coal truck drives inside Rio Tinto's Hunter Valley operation in Lemington, NSW sending a cloud of coal dust
Australia has a strong fossil fuel lobby and there are 114 new coal and gas projects on the government’s official list [File: Jason Reed/Reuters]

Inflation hit a 20-year high, with prices of everyday goods such as vegetables, meat and gasoline all rising thanks to the war in Ukraine and flooding earlier this year.

Soaring house prices and rents are also on the minds of many people, as are key issues that are in the spotlight at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as elderly care. And the central bank just raised interest rates for the first time since 2010.

“People have very separate climates and politics,” agrees Joshi. “One can see climate change as an important issue, but it still has [negative] gut reaction in favor of the Greens.

“It should be noted that people will often express strong support for climate action in surveys, but have very confused and mixed views about its immediacy.”

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