Will Australia’s Turbulent Climate History Continue?

Will Australia’s Turbulent Climate History Continue?

In Australia’s most recent election, Labor party leader Anthony Albanese was elected prime minister after making big promises on climate policy. Polls found that climate change was one of the top issues for voters, making it a key driver, though deeply split among party lines. Albanese’s opponent, the incumbent PM Scott Morrison was a longtime climate resister who mocked the issue until last year when he started to see its political saliency rise, changing his rhetoric and making vague mid-century commitments. Yet, with Australia’s turbulent climate history, the world has its eyes on the nation’s new leadership.

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

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

Why This Matters

This is not the first time Labor has won and proposed climate action. However, the party has been unable to advance its agenda in the past as it didn’t have a 76-seat majority, as is the case again for Albanese. Despite the widespread support for climate action, “it’s become politically unpalatable for either of the major parties to actually take any action,” said Kate Chaney. She ran and won as an independent in the electoral division of Curtin in Western Australia.

A group of independents, calling themselves “teals,” ran to push the Labor party even harder on reducing emissions. Albanese’s goal is to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030 but he will face pressure on both sides, to either go slow or be more aggressive. A popular teal party candidate, Dr. Monique Ryan, is pushing for a 60% reduction target. However, the infrastructure for even a 43% reduction is severely lacking. “That’s just five years away, and the mechanisms outlined by Labor are at the status of ‘a nice plan,” said Richard Martin, managing director of IMA Asia.

ABC News (Australia): Climate Wars | How brutal politics derailed climate policy in Australia, May 18, 2020.

ABC News (Australia): Australia's biggest carbon emitters set for uncertain future under Labor, May 24, 2022.

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

Keeping The Coal Coming

Australia is already one of the world’s leading exporters of coal and natural gas, and Albanese has not committed to end fossil fuel production. Despite his pledge to be net zero by 2050, he has made concessions to the coal industry, promising to support new coal mines, where many labor voters work. Industries like coal are likely to be the most impacted by Albanese’s new climate policies. Even with the support of a majority of Australian citizens, passing more ambitious policy could be difficult because the nation’s fossil fuel lobby is particularly powerful.

According to Frank Jotzo, director of the Center for Climate and Energy Policy at the Australian National University, “You can see the mood has changed since 2019 in coal regions; they want a plan. They’ve worked out coal is being phased out, and they want to start seeing the alternatives.”

Mounting studies prove that net zero will not be possible if fossil fuel extraction continues. A Manchester University study found that to stay within 1.5-degree of warming, wealthy countries -- like Australia -- will have to completely phase out oil and gas production by 2034. Should Albanese continue to support fossil fuel production, Australia’s climate goals will become increasingly unlikely.

BBC: UN scientists say it's 'now or never' to limit global warming, April 4, 2022.

CBS: Huge carbon emissions cuts needed, UN climate report finds, April 4, 2022.

Reuters: World could see 1.5C of warming in next five years, May 10, 2022.