The issue of climate change has had a significant and polarising impact on Australian politics in recent years. The political fortunes of several major players have revolved around it. While Kevin Rudd’s call to arms on the “great moral challenge of our generation” was rhetorically memorable, the debate in Australia has largely focused on developing policies that do not significantly alter the economic status quo.
Since 2007, when Rudd capitalised on the zeitgeist of climate change concern, the political debate has shifted from advocating policies to deal with the challenge to those that “axe the tax”. Australian politics has wrestled with climate change as both an existential global scientific phenomenon and a parochial political and ideological issue.
Climate change is surging again as a fundamental form of political contest in this country, yet without a politics of climate change in place. Action on climate change is, however, a key debate among a handful of future-defining deliberations that Australia needs to have in the next 12 months.
The decisions made within the year could shape the Australia to come for decades. Will the next federal election be decided by action on climate change or lack of it?
A debate that ebbs and flows
Having slipped from the national agenda following the lack of consensus at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, climate change made a limited comeback in the 2013 federal election campaign. The ALP and the Coalition made similar commitments to reduce emissions by 5-25% on 2000 levels by 2020. These were based on the ambition of global agreement at a UN conference in Paris in 2015.
The shift of recent years has been exacerbated and enabled by highly concentrated media ownership and conservative mainstream media that are broadly sympathetic to climate contrarians. They include Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor, Maurice Newman. Newman has claimed that the UN is using climate change as a vehicle for world domination.
Since the 2013 election, a global renewal of prominent voices have urged action on climate change: from Naomi Klein’s bestseller This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, to the call to adopt the Oslo Principles on Global Obligations to Reduce Climate Change.
Momentum for serious international action is building in the lead-up to the Paris Climate Conference in December. High-polluting countries such as the US and China are increasing efforts to confront climate change. They are adopting more aggressive targets for developing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia slipping back in the pack
Despite movement globally, Australian policy and debate appear stuck in a time warp. The government’s lack of leadership and vision on climate change is evidenced by Abbott’s pronouncement that “coal is good for humanity”. His government is making further moves to discourage investment in renewable energy technologies.
Press link for more: theconversation.com
Juan Francisco Salazar
Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Communication Arts at University of Western Sydney
Lecturer, School of Humanities and Communication Arts at University of Western Sydney