Break up: Climate change and Australia’s elections

The televised debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition ahead of elections on May 21 has almost completely ignored climate change and the urgent action needed to tackle it.

In contrast, a recent poll reports that action to tackle climate change is one of the top three issues for a majority of Australian voters.

The Australian leadership debate has almost completely ignored climate change. Image: Getty Images

In early April, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

“We are on track to global warming by more than double the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris. Some Government and business leaders say one thing but do another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results would be disastrous. It’s a climate emergency… Governments and high-emissions companies don’t just turn a blind eye, they add fuel to the fire.”

The most comprehensive scientific updates on climate change, its impacts, and solutions are released in 2021 and 2022 in the first three volumes of the Intergovernmental Panel’s Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change (IPCC).

There is no doubt that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land. Global surface temperatures have increased by 1.1°C in the last decade compared to 1850 to 1900, with more warming on land than in the oceans.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by more than 40 percent since about 1750 as a result of land clearing and the burning of fossil fuels, and is now higher than at any time in the last million years.

Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.4°C since national records began in 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events.

Comparison of observed Australian decadal temperature variations with those simulated by global climate models suggests that the observed warming trend can only be explained by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s average temperature is observed and simulated from global climate models. Graph: BoM/CSIRO Climate State 2020

The IPCC’s global assessment of climate change impacts includes a chapter on Australia and New Zealand.

Two related pages Fact Sheet for Australasia identified nine major climate risks with high confidence. This includes:

  • Loss of… coral reefs… due to ocean heat waves
  • Increased heat-related deaths… for humans and wildlife due to heat waves

  • Gradual impacts on cities, settlements, infrastructure and services from forest fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, storms, and sea level rise

  • Inability of governance institutions and systems to manage climate risk

Australia is one of the developed countries most at risk from the adverse effects of climate change.

The Black Summer wildfires of 2019-20 and flooding in southeast Queensland and New South Wales earlier this year clearly demonstrated the inability of governments at national, state and local levels to manage climate risks.

Global surface temperatures will continue to rise through at least the middle of the century under all considered emission scenarios.

1.5°C and 2°C of global warming will be exceeded during the 21st century unless major reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the next few decades.

Every tonne of carbon dioxide emissions adds to global warming. Any increase in global warming adds to changes in the climate system, increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme heat, ocean heat waves, and heavy rainfall.

1.5°C and 2°C of global warming will be exceeded during the 21st century without significant reductions in Graph: Climate Action Tracker 2021

Even if all countries meet their current emission reduction pledges and targets, global warming is expected to exceed two degrees, with far greater impacts across Australia.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change states that developed countries must take the lead in fighting climate change.

But Australia makes a disproportionately large contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. It only has about 0.3 percent of the global population but accounts for about 1.3 percent of global emissions. It has the highest per capita emissions of any developed country.

An independent assessment of Australia’s global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement targets indicates that Australia’s emission reductions must be far greater than its current commitments.

They concluded that for Australia to meet its Paris Agreement obligations to limit global warming to 1.5°C with a 50 percent chance, the 2030 target for emission reductions would have to be 74 percent relative to 2005 emissions, and net zero emissions by 2035.

The 2022 Climate Change Performance Index ranks Australia last in the world for climate policy, stating that the Australian government’s policy is

“…it is not enough to decarbonise the economy, reduce the use of fossil fuels, promote renewable energy, and determine how national GHG emissions will be reduced. The government does not have a policy to phase out coal or gas.”

Global surface temperatures will continue to rise until at least the middle of this century. Image: Getty Images

The policy of the Australian government and the Opposition Labor Party is to support sustainable coal mining and increase the extraction and export of natural gas, as well as continuing government funding for fossil fuel use in Australia.

Because every tonne of carbon dioxide emission adds to global warming, this policy chooses to exacerbate global warming.

Your vote in national elections allows you to make choices.

You can choose to support rapid and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and stronger actions to adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change.

Or you can choose to exacerbate global warming.

Banner: Getty Images

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