While the Coalition, Labor, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) now support emissions trading and renewable energy, albeit to varying degrees, a gap is opening between their policies and the views held by the Australian community and business.
Both major parties have committed to significant post-election policy reviews. Such a review will be crucial, both to avoid the social and economic instability of this gap, and if our country is to begin to take credible climate action.
The reality is that all the policies of each of the federal parties need work to become credible, scalable and durable. Policies are “Credible” if they explicitly link to shared, meaningful, climate outcomes with transparent review processes. “Scalable” means they address large parts of the economy and can be ramped up, or down, as needed. “Durable” means they are informed by principles that maintain Australia’s economic competitiveness and enhance equity – that is, they are capable of maintaining political support and investor confidence over coming decades.
Both major parties have supported the Paris climate agreement’s goals of keeping global warming “well below” 2°C and to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. With massive reef bleaching, severe storms and unprecedented bushfire weather, it is abundantly clear that Australia is already experiencing significant human, economic and environmental costs …and we only have approximately 1°C of warming already recorded.
It is sobering to realise that if other nations were to have similar emission reduction targets to those that the Coalition currently has, the result would be 3-4°C of global warming, with devastating impacts for Australia. If countries had similar targets to those currently supported by Labor, the world would warm by 2-3°C, also with huge threats for Australians, our economy and environment. Only the Greens and the Glenn Lazarus Team (GLT) have targets aligned to the 1.5-2°C goal, which itself still carries predictable and dangerous impacts. Initial commitments made by countries before Paris would lead to around 3°C of warming. It is clear that Australia and other countries need to do more.
The Paris agreement also includes the goal of attaining net zero emissions. Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have acknowledged this goal. They join investors, central bankers, and global and Australian businesses in doing so. Even multinational oil company, Shell, acknowledges that the 1.5°C goal requires the achievement of net zero emissions by 2050. We are now seeing more and more companies, states and nations setting similar or stronger goals. The carbon emissions intensity of an economy has become a key competitiveness test in the 21st century.
Yet the Coalition’s current 2030 emission reduction targets would put Australia’s per person pollution at 18th among G20 nations, ahead only of Russia and Saudi Arabia. Labor’s current targets would place Australia 15th, and NXT 10th. The Greens and GLT targets would place us 8th.
In addition to these indicators, The Climate Institute tested current policies against three key policy tests: Can they help limit dangerous global warming? Can they help build a modern and net zero emissions economy? Do they integrate assessment of climate risks and opportunities into decision-making?
The Climate Institute engaged with the parties about its policy priorities. In doing so, we found the largest climate policy credibility gaps are with the Jacqui Lambie Network and the Coalition. The Greens, the GLT and Labor respectively have stronger policies. The Nick Xenophon Team has strengths, but requires more detail.
Despite the growing human, economic and environmental costs of climate change to Australia, no party has sufficient policy detail about building greater resilience. Labor and the Greens have agreed to integrate climate risk assessments into core decision-making, and the Greens have led resilience policy development, but all need to improve or follow through with urgency.
Today, we released our Climate Policy Credibility Assessment which recommends three critical steps that all parties should pursue in order for Australia to achieve credible climate policies that are also durable and scalable:
- Set pre-2050 net zero emission objectives, credible emission reduction pathways and regular independent processes of review
- Implement economic and community strategies to manage the transition to decarbonisation, and
- Integrate assessments of climate risks and opportunities into core decision making.
As part of this research, we also conducted national polling which has shown that the concern Australians have about climate change has surged since the lows of 2012 and the last election. Support for Australian climate leadership is returning to 2008 levels and an overwhelming majority see the economic opportunities in taking action. Mainstream business and investor groups are also increasingly frustrated by ongoing policy disputes and are calling for the integration of climate and energy policies.
Australia has some big choices to make, both at this election and in the policy reviews that the Coalition or Labor will run over the next 12 months. We can continue to back inadequate emission reduction targets and policy uncertainty that leave us at the back of the pack of comparable countries. This will simply intensify employment and economic risks alongside an increasingly disruptive catch-up job that becomes more and more unavoidable as time and inaction pass.
Or we can integrate comprehensive climate action into plans to build a modern, innovative, safer and net emissions free economy before 2050. Only this approach will allow us to work with other nations that are leading in providing climate change solutions. Only this approach will also help us prevent current climate risks from becoming significantly more dangerous and costly.
John Conner is head of The Climate Institute