A victorious Labor Party celebrates its election win based on promises for stronger climate action in Australia. In Saturday’s election, voters defied a conservative climate scare campaign and ousted Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition. The incoming Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, had pledged to “end the climate wars” synonymous with the nine years of conservative leadership.
While the counting continues, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already conceded. His ruling Liberal Party lost seats to independents focused on climate change and the Green Party.
Climate groups in Australia and worldwide welcome the news. “This result shows how far the world has moved on from the coalition’s head-in-the-sand stance on climate action. People want to protect their loved ones and their communities from the climate crisis and Australia has just voted this way”, said Alex Scott, from London-based think tank E3G, in response to the results.
“Australia has long been a climate pariah on the international stage”, said Lucy Manne, CEO of 350 Australia. “We hope that the new Government will take this opportunity to bring our approach to climate change in line with what the science, the global community and the Australian public are demanding.” Labor must now rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, support its communities and embrace its potential as a “renewable energy superpower”, she added.
The result is the latest in a positive trend of the world’s worst climate blockers being voted out in favour of pro-climate parties. This includes Donald Trump losing to Joe Biden in the USA, the rise of the Greens in Germany and the re-election of Emmanuel Macron against climate sceptic Marine Le Pen in France.
Ousting the climate laggards
Australia has a long-held reputation as an outlier in international climate policy. The coalition channels billions of dollars into fossil fuel subsidies and is one of the world’s biggest exporters of fossil fuels. Climate Action Tracker rates the outgoing government’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) as “Highly insufficient”, with policies consistent with a catastrophic 4°C of warming. A Government Senator had declared net zero “dead”. Australia’s inertia on climate led UN Chief António Guterres to chasten it as a climate “hold out”, citing its “stupid” coal investments. He later declared that new fossil fuel investments equate to “moral and economic madness”.
The coalition’s notorious track record of climate denial and delay was out of step with the public demands for action. For example, the Ipsos Climate Change Report 2022 reveals that most Australians, 83 per cent, are concerned about climate change. “Climate change was a top issue during the election campaign because the community is sick of inaction in the face of worsening impacts like sea level rise, bushfires, heatwaves and floods”, said Manne.
The long road to Paris
The victorious Labor Party’s policy targets an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030. Their policies include renewable energy and electric car infrastructure. They also promise to strengthen the pollution capping system for the biggest polluters. Furthermore, the Party will bid to host COP29 in 2024 in partnership with Pacific Island neighbours.
“Australians have finally voted for stronger climate action”, said Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at the Australia Institute. “The new government will have a more ambitious 2030 target that will put Australia in line with other western nations, a rapid transition to renewable power and electric vehicles, and a new approach to climate diplomacy.”
Labor’s victory will no doubt spur climate action in Australia. But, the Party also has positions supportive of the coal industry and expansion of fossil fuels. Analysis from Climate Analytics found that Labor’s climate policies are still insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement. Ahead of November’s UN climate conference, COP 27, in Egypt, there is a strong expectation that Australia will strengthen its policies to align with the 1.5 ̊C goal. “The world will be watching Albanese’s new government deliver on this mandate from the Australian people. Transitioning the economy for a 1.5C pathway means moving beyond coal and Australia won’t be let off the hook”, said Scott from E3G.
But, Australia’s high-emission economy means the transition to a green economy won’t be easy. “Unfortunately Australia’s position as the third largest exporter of fossil fuels is unlikely to change anytime soon. There are about 114 new gas and coal mining projects in the pipeline that are mainly for export adding over 1.5 billion tonnes in scope 3 emissions”, said Merzian.
A new era of climate action in Australia
Australia has a long way to go to decarbonise its economy and repair its reputation on climate. But, the benefits of embracing a green, zero carbon economy would be transformational for the country. “Australia has an important role to play in the climate fight: a role it had long forgotten on the international scene”, said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation.
Australia must now enshrine its net zero commitments in law. It must also rapidly scale up 2030 targets. This would send vital signals to the international community that Australia is serious about climate, according to Sepi Golzari-Munro, Executive Director & Deputy Director at Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. Furthermore, these actions would also reassure “investors and corporations that this is a business environment fit for the future”.
The public must also hold the incoming Labor Government to account regarding its commitments to climate action. “Our experience in the US shows that as this government settles in, the [climate] movement cannot stop pushing them and demanding action”, said Keya Chatterjee, Executive Director of US Climate Action Network. “The climate window is closing, we have to urgently phase out fossil fuels in order to protect our most vulnerable communities and natural places from Washington DC to Western Australia.”