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Greens back Australia climate law as political priorities shift

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Australia’s new climate bill is all set to pass the Senate after receiving support from the country’s Green party. Greens leader Adam Bandt announced that after securing changes to the ruling Labor party’s “weak” climate legislation, the party will vote to pass the proposed laws.

Green support puts climate law in contention but disputes remain

The newly elected Labor party led by Anthony Albanese introduced its long awaited climate change bill to parliament in its first full sitting day last week. The bill aims to fill the gap in ex-PM Scott Morrison’s heavily criticised net zero plan in October 2021.

The bulked-up legislation proposed by Albanese will enshrine into law the party’s more ambitious emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 against 2005 levels and net zero by 2050, while putting in place relevant reporting bodies and procedures to hold future governments accountable.

However, the Greens party is still not 100% onboard with the proposed legislation. Bandt tweeted that he was “extremely disappointed” that during negotiations Labor “made it clear” it would continue to support new coal and gas projects.

“Using our numbers in the Parliament, we will now turn to putting further limits on coal and gas”, warned Bandt.

Climate action now a top priority for government

Australia’s federal election in May 2022 was dubbed the “climate election”, as voters demanded more climate action from the country’s political parties. In almost 90% of electorates, climate change was rated as the most important issue by more than one in five people in the lead up to the election, according to ABC’s Vote Compass.

The country has been hit hard by extreme weather disasters over the past few years, with wildfires, droughts, and flooding causing devastating damage across the country. Despite these wake-up calls and the connection to climate change, the country continues to lag behind other developed economies in terms of addressing the challenge.

Analysis from NGO Ember Climate shows that Australia is the world’s largest carbon emitter from coal power on a per capita basis, with the average Australian emitting almost two times as much as the average person in China.

Former Prime Minister Morrison was a stout supporter of the country’s coal industry. He famously brought a lump of coal into Parliament taunting Labor party members to “not be scared” of the fossil fuel.

But as millions of Australians went to the ballots in spring, the results clearly showed that voters had had enough of the government dragging their feet on climate action.

The numbers don’t lie

Albanese, who ran on a platform of making Australia a “renewable energy superpower” and putting an end to “climate wars”, convincingly won the election with 77 seats – 19 more than the incumbent Morrison government.

But what really put the shifting priorities in the spotlight was the swing of seats from Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition to candidates that support a ramping up of climate action.

The election saw a record number of seats secured by the Australian Greens party, who won 12.2% of the vote and four seats in parliament – three of which were previously held by a Liberal-National Coalition candidate.

Another shock of the May election was the surge of seats won by the so-called ‘teal’ independents. These independent candidates were mainly woman running on a platform of ‘green’ strong climate action combined with ‘blue’ conservative fiscal politics, trying to up-end Liberal seats in the country’s wealthiest counties.

These independent candidates secured 12 seats and 10.4% of the votes in the spring election, with almost half of these seats taken from the incumbent Liberal party.

“Over almost nine years’ in office, the Liberal-National Government’s approach to climate action ranged from inadequate to non-existent. Australians are paying a heavy price for that, and they have made their feelings knows”, commented the CEO of Australian non-profit Climate Council Amanda McKenzie on the results of the election.

The first of many climate elections

Australia is not the only country to see climate actions top the list of political priorities, with voters in other countries around the world echoing the call to scale-up government actions to address the climate emergency.

Australia’s neighbour, New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern was elected in 2020 by a landslide victory on a platform of “transformation”, and has since made climate action a top priority for her government.

Since being elected, Ardern has formally declared a “climate emergency” in 2020, committed to halve the country’s emissions by 2030 and ending new offshore oil and gas exploration, and was one of the first countries to enshrine the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming threshold into primary legislation.

A 2021 report from the country’s Climate Commission revealed that business-as-usual policies would cost New Zealand 2.3% of the country’s GDP by 2050. Whereas putting in place policies to support a “climate-friendly” economy would halve this economic impact.

“It is safer, smarter and cheaper to act now”, said Ardern following the release of the report. “If we want the next generation to believe we are investing in them, they need to see action”, she added.

Looking at the UK, the race to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party is heating up but little reference is being made to climate. This is despite the fact that a  survey from legal non-profit Client Earth found that nearly two-thirds of Brits said politicians are not talking enough about climate change, and 70% think that the climate emergency demands more urgent action.

Under Boris Johnson, the UK committed to becoming net zero by 2050 and legislated the world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels. The Tory leader won the first self-proclaimed ‘climate election’ in 2019, and rolled-out a slew of climate legislation to meet voter demand and champion the UK as a leader of climate action ahead of COP26.

However, despite record-breaking temperatures in the UK and a rise in climate change concerns, Britain’s new Conservative Party leadership candidates seem not be aware of the shift in priorities. A poll commissioned by The Times found that only 4% of Conservative Party members surveyed agreed that meeting the 2050 net zero target was one of their top three priorities.

As Brits head to the polls to elect the new Conservative Party leader – and therefore the new PM – how climate policy plays into the results will certainly highlight the voter priorities, and like Australia saw this year, may be one of the deciding factors of who comes out on top.

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