Australia: wedded to coal despite election result – will this change?

+ end to fossil fuels needed to save Great Barrier Reef ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
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At COP26, the November 2021 UN climate change summit in Glasgow, former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison refused to sign the global methane pledge which would commit his country to slashing methane emissions from coal and gas facilities, livestock and landfills by 30% in a decade. Despite setting a non-binding goal to end Australia’s contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2050, Morrison would not consider closing the country’s fossil fuel sector, which is one of the world’s largest.
Now Australia has a new prime minister in Labor party leader Anthony Albanese. But will his government differ from the environmental laggard it’s replacing?
You’re reading the Imagine newsletter – a weekly synthesis of academic insight on solutions to climate change, brought to you by The Conversation. I’m Jack Marley, energy and environment editor. This week we’re considering the climate implications of the recent election result in Australia.
Labor campaigned on a plan to cut Australia’s emissions 43% by 2030. A pre-election analysis by Bill Hare, adjunct professor of climate science at Murdoch University, found that this would put the world *on track for about 2°C* <> of warming by 2100. That’s better than Morrison’s programme, which was consistent with raising the global average temperature 3°C above pre-industrial levels. But neither is compatible with the Paris Agreement’s “safe” target of 1.5°C.
According to Hare, the only manifestos which were compatible belonged to the Greens and the so-called teal independents. Initially, it seemed Labor’s narrow win would force Albanese to govern in a coalition with these groups. But by retaining the Melbourne seat of Macnamara, Albanese is free to govern independently. The prospect of a Labor majority has John Quiggin, a professor of economics at the University of Queensland, worried.
“Winning majority government means Labor doesn’t have to negotiate with crossbenchers to control the House of Representatives, though it will need *Green and independent support* <> to get legislation through the Senate,” he says.
Australian coal exports are booming and projected to grow in the coming years thanks to sky-high fossil fuel prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Labor ruled out any restrictions on the domestic burning of coal, oil and gas or sales of these fossil fuels to other countries on the campaign trail. Without more ambitious governing partners, Albanese is secure in putting off measures to wind down the country’s fossil fuel industry. This is catastrophic for any hopes of slashing emissions says Fergus Green, a lecturer in political theory and public policy at UCL:
“One sure-fire way of telling whether a government official is hoodwinking you when lauding their government’s climate credentials is to *look upstream* <> and see whether they’re producing the coal, oil or gas that ultimately causes about three-quarters of global emissions, and if so, what they’re doing about it.”
From this perspective, there seems very little separating Morrison from his successor. But given Albanese has a mandate to lead from an electorate recently traumatised by record-breaking fires and floods, it’s possible that Labor could pursue *bolder action in government* <>, says Nerilie Abram, a senior research fellow in climate science at Australian National University.
“Fortunately, the international climate negotiations framework is designed for ratcheting up ambition over time. This means Australia can still increase our 2030 ambition further and do our fair share to limit warming to 1.5°C, which would be a much safer pathway.”
What might that look like? Labor has ruled out a carbon tax (a policy with *a fraught history in Australia* <>, but Quiggin expects the new government to prioritise building up the country’s *renewable energy capacity* <>.
“The real need is to promote rapid growth in large-scale solar and wind energy, and to push much harder on the transition to to electric vehicles. Some of this could be done through direct public investment, on the model of Queensland’s CleanCo, or through expanded use of concessional finance using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the new Rewiring the Nation Corporation,” he says.
As steward of the Great Barrier Reef, the new government must also act quickly to aid the ailing ecosystem. At 1.5°C of global warming, scientists predict 90% of the world’s largest reef system will be lost. Total destruction awaits at 2°C. Prior to the election, coral experts at James Cook University, Jodie L. Rummer and Scott F. Heron wrote about *the stakes for the Great Barrier Reef* <>, which recently bleached for the fourth time in seven years:
“Australia has doubled down on coal and gas exports with subsidies of AU$20 billion in the past two years. When these fossil fuels are burned, they produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap more heat in the atmosphere that also warms the ocean.
“If our next federal government wants to save the reef, it must tackle the main reason it is in trouble by phasing out fossil fuel use and exports as quickly as possible. Otherwise it’s like putting band aids on an arterial wound.”
*- Jack Marley, Environment commissioning editor*
*Was this email forwarded to you? Join the 14,000 people who get one email every week about the most important issue of our time. Subscribe to Imagine. <>*
[image: A diver swims over a coral reef.] <>
*I am a climate scientist – and this is my plea to our newly elected politicians* <>
I implore the Labor Party to govern like every decision, and every year, matters. Because it really, really does. Read more <>
[image: An aerial view of a solar farm.] <>
*The election showed Australia’s huge appetite for stronger climate action. What levers can the new government pull? <>*
Doing as little as possible on climate change was a seemingly safe political strategy until recently. Read more <>
[image: A road leading through a burnt landscape.] <>
*Scorched dystopia or liveable planet? Here’s where the climate policies of our political hopefuls will take us <>*
The Coalition’s climate policy is consistent with a very dangerous 3℃ of global warming. But one party is comfortably consistent with keeping warming at safe levels. Read more <>
[image: Smoke haze around Parliament House in Australia.] <>
*Climate wars, carbon taxes and toppled leaders: the 30-year history of Australia’s climate response, in brief* <>
Click through a timeline to make sense of Australia’s long, tumultuous years of shifting climate policies. Read more <>
[image: Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef.] <>
*What the next Australian government must do to save the Great Barrier Reef <>*
Efforts to save the reef aren’t tackling the main cause: climate change. What we need from our next federal government is strong leadership to avert the climate crisis. Read more <>

*Latest from The Conversation on climate change*
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