Climate change has been a political football that has been a factor in Australian politics for some years now.
In 2010, Labor party leader Julia Gillard was elected on a platform that included climate action. She subsequently lost the leadership of her party in 2013.
Thanks in part to factual misrepresentations about in the popular media, Gillard’s climate leadership was succeeded by the climate-denying-coal-loving leadership of Tony Abbott.
One of the first things that Abbot vowed to do was kill the nation’s green dream. Under Abbott Australia put forward one of the weakest carbon reduction plans in the world.
Abbott’s Direct Action climate plan even gave big business a number of ways they could increase their emissions without incurring a penalty. The government provided $4.5 billion in subsidies to the coal industry.
The Australian government’s policy position on climate change and fossil fuels has confounded many observers. One of those observers is former Vice President and climate leader Al Gore who said:
“There are many people around the world that think of Australia as a leader in the community of nations, it almost always has been, and some have been frankly scratching their heads of late, wondering what has been going on.”
Concern about Australia were evident at the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December when the Assie delegation was subjected to a barrage of questions.
As Abbott’s policy shifts dismantled national climate action plans massive bush fires burned that were attributed to climate change. In 2014 more fires and more data corroborated the relationship between Australian bush fires and climate change and refuted the logic of the Australian government’s policy stance.
To drive the point home there was also a massive coal fire in 2014.
Support for fossil fuels and climate inaction are central tenants of modern day conservativism. Tony Abbott had a great deal in common with former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Australian and Canadian conservative governments will be regarded by history as climate failures at a time when the world most needed leadership. These two leaders and their governments not
only failed to reign in climate change causing emissions, they undermined progress at UN sponsored climate talks. Worst of all they worked to increase their nation’s fossil fuel extraction.
Even though Canada now has progressive climate leadership, a decade of Harper’s fossil fuel obsessed governance has compromised Canada’s international reputation and the nation’s economic well-being. Australia is in a similar position, and the nation has lost a lot of time moving in the wrong direction.
At the end of 2015 Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott as Prime Minister. Turnbull once called
Abbott’s position on climate change “bullshit”. Turnbull has also been a
vocal supporter of climate action including cap-and-trade. However, since
becoming Prime Minister his position on climate action has softened.
Australia is a major contributor to climate change and
the nation has one of the highest per capita emissions of CO2 in the
world. Australia’s inability to adhere to a sound climate policy is
almost entirely due to those who seek to capitalize on the nation’s vast
China is the primary market for this coal, however, Chinese demand may be drying up. China’s growing climate commitments and
widespread closures of coal powered plants is a further sign of the economic insanity of Australian government’s commitment to coal. Despite the environmental impacts and the economic risks the country is moving ahead with massive coal development projects.
We know that it is possible for Australia to dump coal and embrace renewable energy, however, this will not happen in the absence of political leadership. Turnbull has promised to use his position to persuade Australians. However, it may take some time before the new Prime Minister can turn the ship around, if he is able to do so at all.
He will have to convince Australians that this is about more than just having a place among responsible nations or even being good climate stewards. This is about making energy choices that will impact the economic and social well being of Australians for generations to come.
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