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World view – Ending the ‘Climate Wars’? – The 2022 Australian Federal Election

About a month after the dust has settled, Account Executive Aaron Marchant has looked at the key points to take from the Australian Federal Election, and how climate change once continues to play a key political role:

‘Together we can end the climate wars’ – Anthony Albanese, Victory Speech, 21 May 2022

Speaking on being elected as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, Labor leader Anthony Albanese pledged to inaugurate a ‘journey of change’ where ‘we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower.’[1] Albanese’s statement marked a key point in Australia’s contentious debate over climate change and signalled that, with the defeat of the Liberal-National Coalition (in power since 2013), Australia is about to undergo a realignment in climate policy.

Given the impact that climate change has already wrought upon the nation, Albanese’s ambition should not be surprising. From September 2019 to March 2020, extreme wildfires burned over 46 million acres, destroyed at least 3,500 homes, and killed 34 people. The impact on wildlife was even more severe. University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman estimated that more than a billion animals had perished in the megafires.[2] Elsewhere, the impact of rising temperatures on ocean biodiversity presents a national threat to the Great Barrier Reef where ocean acidification and coral bleaching are threatening marine species, with dire consequences for local ecosystems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in a 2018 report that if global warming reaches 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, then 70 to 90 percent of warm water coral reefs will have disappeared.[3] This outcome would be particularly acute for Australia as the Great Barrier Reef has been estimated to contribute $6.4 billion toward national GDP and supports over 64,000 jobs.[4]

Only two months ago, UN Secretary-General António Guterres labelled Australia a ‘holdout’ for its alleged failure to have announced meaningful emission reductions by 2030.[5] Former PM Scott Morrison had maintained 2030 carbon reduction targets of between 26 and 28 percent, a stance his successor has pledged to change. Asked to comment on his climate policy, Albanese stated:

[Climate change is] far less controversial in the UK, it shouldn’t be controversial here. And we have an opportunity now to end the climate wars in Australia. Australian business know that good action on climate change is good for jobs and good for our economy, and I want to join the global effort.’[6]

Subsequently, with Australia the world’s fourteenth largest emitter, the Labor Party outlined a Powering Australia plan with the expressed aim of creating jobs and boosting renewable energy.[7] Crucially, the Plan commits to reducing Australia’s carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030 in aid of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Proposals include:

  • Investment of $20 billion to upgrade the electricity grid to increase renewable capacity.
  • An allocation of $3 billion from the National Reconstruction Fund to invest in green metals, clean energy component manufacturing, hydrogen electrolysers and fuel switching, agricultural methane reduction, and waste reduction. Examples include the creation of battery and solar panel supply chains and manufacturing.
  • Creation of a new Powering the Regions Fund to improve energy efficiency within existing and new industries, including green hydrogen and bioenergy.
  • Roll out of 85 solar banks to increase the deployment of rooftop solar – considered a ‘cheap’ form of energy evidenced by its place on the rooftops of 1 in 4 Australians.
  • Installation of 400 community batteries to support rooftop solar.
  • Investment in 10,000 New Energy Apprentices and a $10 million New Energy Skills Program.
  • Commitment to make the Australian Public Service carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Introduction of an Electric Car Discount to remove taxes on low-emissions vehicles, and the development of a National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

Ultimately, the Labor Party is confident of the benefits to be incurred from implementation of Powering Australia: support for 604,000 jobs, $76 billion of investment, a reduction in household energy bills, and an increase in the renewable sector’s market share to 82% by 2030. Given Australia’s topography and natural resources, it is no wonder the Government is ambitious. Nevertheless, with a mere three year term ahead of him, Albanese will have to move quickly if he wishes to fundamentally reorientate his nation’s position on climate change and net zero. The climate battle might be over, but the war is yet to be won.

[1] Anthony Albanese Victory Speech, ABC News, 21 May 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77N_cxPJvkE [accessed 27 May 2022].

[2] The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), 2019-2020 Australian Bushfires, 14 October 2020, https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disasters/2019-australian-wildfires/ [accessed 27 May 2022].

[3] CarbonBrief, Last refuges for coral reefs to disappear above 1.5C of global warming, study finds, 1 March 2022, https://www.carbonbrief.org/last-refuges-for-coral-reefs-to-disappear-above-1-5c-of-global-warming-study-finds/ [accessed 27 May 2022].

[4] Great Barrier Reef Foundation, The Value, 2017, https://www.barrierreef.org/the-reef/the-value [accessed 27 May 2022].

[5] SBS News, UN Secretary-General labels Australia a ‘holdout’ for refusing to do more on climate change, 22 March 2022, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/australia-a-holdout-on-climate-un-chief/jzufkwmqw [accessed 27 May 2022].

[6] BBC News, Australia election: Anthony Albanese signals climate policy change, 22 May 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-61539426 [accessed 27 May 2022].

[7] Labor Party, Our Plan, Powering Australia, May 2022, p.13. https://www.alp.org.au/policies/powering-australia [accessed 27 May 2022].