This is just the beginning…
Even though it is almost certain that Tony Abbott will win comfortably at Saturday’s election, the environment movement is not going to sulk in the corner. No doubt some people will be a bit depressed fearing what is to come as the fossil fuel industry, extreme rural interests and allied conservative think tanks, press their agendas.
Does any of this mean that the strongly felt desire by the vast majority of the community to protect the environment and embrace a clean energy future will suddenly disappear? Of course not. In an election where the environment has barely rated a mention, the mandate does not expunge vital and urgent issues requiring effective responses.
We don’t stand still – we continue campaigning. And as the new government seeks to remove an important policy or protective law – it will be met by debate and challenges about what are they going to do about the problem that was targeted in the first place. The replacement policies and actions will be subject to ongoing scrutiny. If a government seeks to act on an issue (and so far the Liberal National Coalition have not denied there are environmental problems, whether climate or threatened species, for example), then it owns the consequences of that action.
Direct Action? OK, so they allocate funding (no more, no less) and are tested against what’s needed. Abbott has already said they won’t increase funds if the 5% by 2020 target is not met. So then we get into a debate about the latest even more alarming scientific evidence on global warming. The ALP’s environment minister has said they will uphold their commitment to an emissions trading scheme in Opposition despite the Coalition’s ‘we have a mandate’ for repeal argument. While emissions trading is an essential long term changer to business decisions on energy consumption and pollution, these competing policies are not the only game in town over the next two electoral cycles.
No doubt energy efficiency measures will continue to roll out – whether from government policy or market forces. Interestingly the NSW government’s recent Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which proposes a range of 2020 targets in concert with the 20% renewable energy goal, lead to cancelling of predicted generation growth and a reduction in coal’s share of generation. And National Electricity Market arrangements are under concerted review to improve efficiency. Overall, energy saving is cheaper than Direct Action emissions reductions and better for business and productivity.
So consistent with not standing still, Total Environment Centre’s Green Capital program will be holding ‘Power Games’ on 12 September, less than a week after the federal election. Our panel includes John Connor of the Climate Institute, Tim Nelson from AGL Energy, Norton Rose climate lawyer Elisa de Wit, and RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson, who will report from the front line. It’s the beginning of the move to adjust our perspectives and tactics as quickly as possible to ensure the environment and climate change stay on the active government and public agenda.
We argue that you can leverage off the times when the pendulum swings back to muted or anti-environment protection policy. This is long standing experience over the last 50 years of environmental battle. Quite a few environmental NGOs are reaching their half century birthdays. You don’t survive that long without deep and substantial community support and learning the lessons of sustained campaigning.
Jeff Angel is Executive Director, Total Environment Centre and Green Capital. He has been an environmental campaigner since 1973 and has seen many changes of government