Droughts, fires and floods: Could climate change determine Australia’s election?

Australia, a major coal exporter and one of the worst emitters per capita, went to the polls Saturday. The results could set global climate goals, as voters demand lawmakers do more to reduce emissions.

Australian election results this Saturday will set the climate agenda for one of the worst emitters of CO2 per capita on the planet. It comes as the world faces a rapidly closing window to halt the most severe impacts of climate change.

The country, dubbed a “destroyer” in climate change negotiations, is a major exporter of fossil fuels, mostly to East Asia and India. It has been criticized for too inadequate climate targets by the UK and US and neighboring Pacific nations who could see their homes disappear as sea levels rise.

Voters facing record floods and droughts want more climate action

At the same time, polls clearly show voters favor stronger climate action in “sunburned lands,” after experiencing deadly and costly floods and bushfires linked to climate change in recent years. Some big businesses, once opposed to reducing emissions, have also changed climate policy. The country is very vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.

“Australians are feeling and seeing climate damage now and that’s why most Australians are very concerned about climate change and want governments to do more than they are doing,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, ​​chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

Despite public support, major parties vying for votes in tight elections hardly ever mention the issue in their campaigns, said Peter Christoff, senior research fellow at Melbourne Climate Futures, part of the University of Melbourne.

“And it’s really worrying and worrying,” Christoff said.

Australian political parties in long ‘climate war’

Since 2007, Australia’s two major parties, the centre-left Labor Party and the conservative Liberal Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have been at an open war over climate change policies, leading to the ousting of many leaders.

“The public outcry in political trade-offs – especially over emissions trading schemes and carbon pricing and carbon taxes – led to some of the ugliest politics we’ve seen in Australia over a 15 year period,” Christoff said.

In this photo provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), a diver swims through the reef on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. More than 90% of Great Barrier Reef corals surveyed in 2022 experienced bleaching in the fourth mass event in seven years on the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, Australian government scientists said in their annual report. (AP)

The Labor Party believes that it lost the “climate election” that should not be lost in 2019 to the Liberal Party due to the strong reaction to strong climate policies and job scares in the prime seats in the coal mining area.

Coal lobby pushes climate protection policy

Australia is the second largest coal exporter in the world. And because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising coal prices mean Australia will likely earn A$100 billion (€67 billion, $70 billion) in one year from coal.

Meanwhile, between 100,000 and 300,000 Australian jobs related to coal, oil and gas are at risk if the country is not prepared to move away from fossil fuels, according to a study by Australia’s independent think tank, the Center for Policy Development.

The big parties are weak to the climate

To date, conservatives have blocked significant action on climate change — blocking major emissions trading schemes, cutting funding for climate research, subsidizing and allowing fossil fuel production to thrive and abolishing the government-funded Climate Commission.

At the 2021 UN climate conference in Glasgow, governments refused to budge from reducing emissions by 2030 by 26% to 28% at 2005 levels — one of the weakest targets in the developed world. The United Nations Climate Action Tracker rated Australia’s emissions and net zero targets as “poor” and “grossly insufficient”, placing it on a path towards warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius.

In the run-up to the 2022 election, the Liberal Party pledged to be net zero by 2050, but has given itself room to ignore this. At the same time, it has pledged to continue Australian coal and gas exports beyond 2050 and has incorporated these fossil fuels into its domestic energy blueprint.

Labor — currently expected to win this election — has also pledged to go net zero by 2050 and have a stronger emissions cut of 43% by 2030. It has pledged tens of billions of dollars to revitalize the country’s energy grid and install solar banks. and battery. . But it said it would not stop exporting coal and gas.

The new climate force in the country?

Australia is dominated by the two main parties, but by dragging them on to climate change, Labor and the Liberals have opened the door to new challengers.

A group of independents, nicknamed “teals”, are competing with Liberal MPs for urban seats. Mostly women, they receive funding from a group called Climate 200 — a relatively new political fund founded by clean energy investor Simon Holmes a Court — and have campaigned on climate, integrity and gender equality. They have all set ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets ranging from 50% to 70% by 2030.

And they seem to be attracting moderate Liberal voters who are disillusioned by the lack of movement on climate change. Recent polls show some major seats are at risk.

Meanwhile, the Greens have enjoyed a surge and are now voting at around 15% nationwide — compared to 10% in the 2019 election. They have pledged to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030, to net zero by 2035, stop mining, burning and exporting coal by 2030 and converting the grid to 100% renewable energy.

Depending on the outcome of the election, both the Greens and the original candidate could wield significant power over the government.

Tech billionaires compete to end coal

Businesses are also calling for more action. In one example, Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes tried to use his wealth to force energy giant AGL out of a coal-fired power plant.

Even the Australian Business Council — which represents major banks and corporations, such as industrial and retail giant Wesfarmers, mining companies BHP and Rio Tinto and airline Qantas — is now calling for massive emission reductions by 2030. 2018 called a 45% emission reduction an “economic destruction target.”

“It’s definitely not the community that is holding Australian political parties back in climate action and it’s not the business community either,” said ACF’s O’Shanassy. “Everyone wants climate action except the people who go to the Houses of Parliament.”

But neither Labor nor Liberal targets were sufficient to bring Australia in line with its Paris Commitments. Cutting emissions of at least 50% by 2030 is what is needed to keep them below the upper 2-degree warming threshold and around 75% for the 1.5-degree target, according to some estimates.

Australia: Huge potential for sun, wind

The ACF believes that the next government should harness the country’s immense solar and wind potential and be able to rapidly reduce emissions while maintaining jobs by replacing fossil fuel exports with products made with renewable energy such as hydrogen and ammonia.

“We need to use the huge amount of renewable energy we have in this country. We need to multiply that by about ten and then turn it into exports and stop exporting pollution to the world,” O’Shanassy said. “That will be our biggest contribution to climate change.”

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