Australia has endured a series of devastating climate events over the past three years. The horrific bushfires of 2019-2020 captured global attention and an outpouring of donations to wildlife rescue and other conservation charities, while the continuous flooding of urban areas in northern New South Wales in early 2022 has led to billions in damages and towns rendered uninhabitable. Despite each extreme event generating discussion about the impacts of climate change on the Australian environment, this rarely led to action. However, that changed with the Federal Election in May 2022, where the incumbent centre-right coalition was ousted by a centre-left wing party, riding a wave of support for the Greens party and Independent candidates who campaigned vociferously on the promise of climate action. This Federal Election is the most important climate event in Australia within the first half of 2022 due to its success in shifting Australia’s federal government from barely masked climate denial to ostensible climate action.
For the past nine years, the country has been governed by a central right coalition (the LNP) comprised of candidates from the Liberal and National parties. The LNP governed on a platform of climate obstructionism, and in some contexts, outright climate denial. During its term in office, the LNP received both accolades from the right-wing media and opprobrium from progressive voices as they engaged in various stunts and backtracking on climate action. These included the Treasurer fondling lumps of coal in Parliament House, the steadfast refusal to legislate a climate emission target, a revolving door between politicians and the fossil fuel industry, and the overturning of the country’s price on carbon. This period is known as the ‘climate wars’, where entrenched inaction led to escalating civil resistance and widespread anger and shame about the country’s contribution to the global climate catastrophe.
In early 2022 a wave of independent candidates unaligned with any political party began campaigning on a platform of climate action. These ‘Teal’ independents – named for the colour of their branding and who were supported by an organisation called Climate 200 – challenged LNP representatives in inner city electorates. The final election results showed widespread public support for climate action. While Labor won the majority of government with 77 seats, 11 teal independents won seats, 6 of which were ‘safe’ seats taken from the Liberal party. The Greens party achieved its best ever result, winning four seats in the House of Representatives and 12 in the Senate. This new government brings hope that finally Australia can stop being an international pariah and move into meaningful and rapid carbon emissions.
The election had an immediate impact on the country. Many members of the public and a broad range of civil sector and business groups expressed relief and joy at the prospect of Australia finally moving beyond climate obstructionism. Many hope that the new Federal government’s policies will have a radical impact on Australia’s future carbon emissions, given its election promises. Labor was bought to power with a commitment to legislate a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030, up from the LNP’s non-legislated target of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels. Labor also pledged to boost Australia’s renewable energy share of the electricity grid to 82% by 2030 (from current projected levels of 68%). Furthermore, the party has committed to immediately remove prohibitive taxes on electric vehicle imports, which have resulted in Australia lagging behind the world in electric vehicle uptake. Both independents and Greens campaigned strongly on a platform of climate action, with the Greens calling for a moratorium on new oil and gas projects, and Independents calling for legislation of the target and higher ambition on the 43% target.
The introduction of politicians publicly stating support for climate action into the Federal Government is an extremely positive step toward Australia meeting its international obligations to address climate change. However, there are signs that progress is not assured. While Labor is currently preparing to introduce a legislated emissions reduction target, it has simultaneously approved a giant off-shore gas mining ‘carbon bomb’, projected to emit almost 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime. Nineteen new large coal and gas projects are likely to be approved in the coming months by this new Labor-led Federal government, despite environmental groups taking legal measures to stop them. The Australian State of the Environment Report – withheld by the previous LNP government – demonstrates the ongoing, continual decline of Australia’s environment, including bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, ecosystem collapse due to persistent land clearing, and widespread species extinction. It will be up to advocates, the electorate, and pro-climate independents/Greens representatives to ensure that the warning signs are heeded and the climate promises of the incoming Federal Government are translated into immediate action.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Robyn Gulliver