Australia's Newly Elected Labor Party Aims to Finally Take Climate Action

Australia's Newly Elected Labor Party Aims to Finally Take Climate Action

Climate is, according to some polls, the most pressing issue for the Australian electorate. It’s not hard to see why: bushfires and floods have killed over 500 people and billions of animals. Moreover, the country has been confronted by an "insurability crisis,” which will leave one in 25 homes uninsurable by 2030. Australia’s cost of living, which is already skyrocketing, is being compounded by home insurance premiums that are about four times as high as they were in 2004. Evidence in a recent court case about climate’s effects on children predicted that "1 million of today’s Australian children are expected to suffer at least one heat-stress episode serious enough to require acute care in a hospital.”

That said, the Australian government's track record of reducing emissions is among the worst in the developing world. As the second-largest exporter of coal for power generation, the industry supports over 150,000 Australian jobs and generates over $60 billion for the nation’s economy. Its Liberal-National Coalition (conservative party) has allowed fossil fuel production to flourish while cutting funding for climate research and eradicating the country’s Climate Commission. Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison remained in the thrall of the coal lobby, even bringing a lump of coal to parliament in 2017 to make fun of policymakers making the case for cleaner energy.

After last week’s election, the more progressive Labor party has returned to power for the first time in a decade with a more aggressive climate agenda, a result that may finally bring Australia up to speed with other countries’ climate commitments.

ABC News (Australia): IN FULL | Anthony Albanese delivers victory speech after clinching win over Coalition | ABC News, May 21, 2022.

Democracy Now!: Greenslide: Climate Crisis Spurs Green-Labor Win in Australian Election Over Pro-Coal, Right-Wing PM, May 22, 2022.

Guardian Australia: 'We will keep mining', says Australian prime minister Scott Morrison about the future of coal, September 9, 2021.

Why This Matters

Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Former defense officials even called global warming "the greatest threat to [Australia’s] future and security.” Extreme weather and environmental events have hit the country in recent years, from record-breaking wildfires in late 2019 to coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. Still, Australia has remained notoriously stubborn in climate negotiations. At last year’s COP26, the government only agreed to cut emissions to 28% of 2005 levels, which the UN called "highly insufficient” in keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. Australia’s unwillingness to reduce emissions affects other countries as well. The nation exports massive amounts of fossil fuels to East Asia and India while putting nearby Pacific Island nations at risk of sinking underwater.

CNN: Australia is on the frontline for climate change, yet it does little to fight it. Here's why, May 22, 2022.

ABC News (Australia): Climate change has made old measures predicting weather events in Australia 'worthless,' May 18, 2022.

ABC: 'Australia is ground zero for climate change’ | ‘Burning’ documentary director, December 16, 2021.

Labor Takes Charge

Incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised to adopt more ambitious emissions targets and extend a constitutional right to indigenous people to be heard in matters of national policy-making. Albanese traveled to Tokyo today to discuss the climate crisis with President Biden and the leaders of Japan and India.

Guardian: 'If you fall asleep it's OK': Biden applauds Albanese's determination to attend Quad summit, May 23, 2022.

The Labor party has vowed to get the nation to net zero by 2050 and aims to cut emissions by 43% by 2030, while also agreeing to install solar banks and batteries. It won’t, however, pledge to stop exporting fossil fuels. According to some experts, even despite the party’s more ambitious targets, Australia will not meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

But Labor remains optimistic. "Together we can end the climate wars," Albanese said. "Together we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower."

Australian Greens: The Greens Will Replace Coal & Gas with Renewables and Take Strong Climate Action, April 10, 2022.

60 Minutes Australia: Can renewable energy turn Australia into a global superpower?, May 1, 2022.