Climate change is making demands on our politicians like nothing before it. How they react during and after this Australian federal election will be the acid test — for them and us. [20 November 2007 | Peter Boyer]
This 2007 federal election is truly historic. Never – not even in wartime – have we had an issue that demands such universal, immediate and sustained attention as global warming.
On Saturday, we must choose parties and candidates who understand this crisis, know what needs doing, and are ready to act immediately.
A few years ago scientists thought that getting greenhouse pollution 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 would halt rising temperatures, but they now say we need a binding 2050 reduction target of at least 80 and probably 90 percent.
Using some rubbery land clearing data our government claims we’re meeting our modest Kyoto emission targets, but we’re actually going backwards, fast. Australia’s 2005 emissions from electricity generation and transport were more than 42 percent above 1990 levels.
So how do the parties respond to the scientific advice?
• Neither the Greens nor the Australian Democrats can form a government, but they can influence what happens in the Senate. Both make a big issue of climate change. The Greens have a 2050 target to reduce emissions by 80 percent below the 1990 level (along with a short-term 30 percent target for 2020); the Democrats’ target is 60 to 90 percent. Both emphasise energy efficiency, boosting renewable energy and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, the major driver of international action. Neither party supports “clean coal” technology. The Greens want no more coal-fired power stations; the Democrats want coal-mining countries to tax exports.
• Labor will set a 60 percent emissions reduction target for 2050, and has a 20 percent renewable energy target for 2020 involving support for solar, wind and geothermal energy. It will immediately ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and will begin a carbon trading scheme (putting a price on carbon emissions) by 2010. It offers incentives to improve water and energy efficiency including solar power and hot water rebates. Other policies include a clean energy export strategy and a “green car challenge”, along with support for “clean coal” technology.
• The Coalition believes radical climate action may damage future prosperity. It won’t ratify Kyoto, opting instead for a technology-based agreement with “aspirational” targets. It won’t set an emission target till after the election; this will be “flexible” to take account of future developments. It plans a carbon trading scheme by 2011. Current rebates for solar electricity and water heating will be continued alongside development of “clean coal” technology. The National Water Initiative aims to tackle chronic water supply issues in the Murray-Darling basin by taking over management from the states.
As electors we can help determine how the climate challenge, the toughest political assignment in history, plays out. It has never been more important that we think before we vote.