Interview with Suzanne Harter
Australia voted for a new parliament on the 21st of May 2022. We asked our CCPI experts which importance the election results have for climate policy, as the upcoming decade is essential to combat climate change and decisive climate action is needed.
What is your general perception of the election results?
- In pre-election polling, including Australia’s largest ever climate poll by YouGov, the results showed that a majority of voters wanted the government to do more on climate change. Climate was the number one issue for a majority of voters and the election results showed that this truly was a climate election.
- The election result was a narrow win for the Labor Party, which now has a majority and can govern in its own right. At the same time it was a massive landslide away from the previous Coalition government, which had a very poor record on climate, refused to make any commitments to strengthen their climate record and continued to support fossil fuels all the way to the election. The biggest shift went to the Greens and Independents. Six strong female Independents unseated moderate Liberal candidates with climate change as a top issue. Around one-third of voters chose an alternative to the two major parties – again showing dissatisfaction with what the major parties were offering – and for many that related to climate change. However, government integrity and trust were also key concerns.
- There is still a part of the country that does not support stronger climate action – and for many it’s because they are worried about what it will mean for their jobs and local economy – particularly in Queensland. So there is work to make sure these workers are supported through Australia’s energy transition and decarbonisation, and have confidence in a future cleaner economy.
What is the significance of the election result in terms of climate policy? What are expectations on the new government?
- The new government committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and to increase Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target from the current 26-28% to 43% (based on 2005 levels). They will formally make this target Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement and intend to legislate the targets. They also committed to a plan to help repower Australia with clean energy – including to build more transmission infrastructure, install more batteries and solar; have committed to support electric vehicle uptake and create a national EV Plan; committed to support new ‘green’ industries like metals produced with green hydrogen; have committed more climate resilience funding to our Pacific neighbours; and will start the process of driving emissions from our industrial sector by phasing down baselines under an existing policy called the ‘Safeguard Mechanism’ which has never been used to reduce emissions.
- The new government has also committed to revitalise our key climate policy body – the Climate Change Authority and to bid to host the 2024 COP29 in Australia in partnership with Pacific Island Nations.
- The new government was very careful on climate commitments, not wanting to trigger scare campaigns. So, it’s now hoped that with such a strong climate mandate, and because they will require Greens to vote with them to pass Legislation (in the Senate), there will be the opportunity to increase their ambition over the term of government.
- The expectation is that they will immediately start work on their climate commitments, including to signal internationally that Australia plans to move away from being a climate laggard. We expect structural reform that embeds climate action as permanently as possible and would like to see a legislated framework for reviewing and ratcheting up emissions reduction ambition along with early actions to start meeting commitments.
- Along with current commitments, the new government will need to deal with the fact that Australia is one of the worlds largest fossil fuel exporters and there are more than 100 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline.
Australia ranks 59th in the latest edition of the CCPI 2022. What short-term measures should the next government implement to improve the country’s ranking? What are three key demands?
- Stop supporting coal and gas: review current fossil fuel subsidies with the aim of phasing them out; stop new subsidies and approvals for new coal, oil and gas projects, and announce that the new government will no longer be relying on a ‘gas-led recovery’, which was the policy of the previous government. Related to this, sign the global methane pledge.
- Develop and implement a national clean transport strategy. Although the government made commitments to support EVs, emissions in transport are growing and Australia needs a much broader policy to address the transport sector.
- Address industrial emissions by expanding the ‘Safeguard Mechanism’ to capture more facilities and require them to phase down their emissions in line with Paris-consistent targets. This requirement will also spur much greater energy efficiency, fuel switching and innovation.
- In addition to the above, there is a significant opportunity to protect Australia’s biodiversity while supporting nature as a climate solution. The government will need to improve our national environmental laws and invest much more in nature protection.
What are the biggest climate policy challenges for your country until 2030?
- Ending our reliance on coal and gas exports, and shifting to clean exports such as renewable energy via green hydrogen and clean manufactured products produced with renewable energy.
- Manage the closure of our dirty coal-fired generators and phase-out of gas for domestic electricity, while massively and responsibly building renewable energy and ensuring a reliable electricity system.
- Assist communities impacted by climate policy and coal/gas closures – ensure they have agency in their future and get the support needed to move to new jobs in clean industries.
Which developments in your country makes you hopeful?
- The breadth of the climate vote – in city and country, and in all electorates. There has been a shift in Australia with a significant increase in climate concern and that has been reflected in voting. This is possibly impacted by the extreme fires, floods and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, which has woken some Australians up to the fact that climate change is here now and can’t be ignored if we care about the future.
- Leadership in both the Liberal party and National party (which made up the previous Coalition government) has been changed – and while the new leaders are not huge climate supporters the Nationals leader in particular is saying he will be more sensible on climate, and the Liberals are acknowledging climate was an issue in the election result. Hopeful this, and commitments by the new Prime Minister, will help end the climate wars in Australia and help us more to a more constructive climate policy environment.
- The fact that renewable energy investment has continued to break records despite political attacks, the cost of renewables continue to fall and our coal generators are unable to compete so many are moving forward closure dates. Our energy transition is happening and can’t be turned back.
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