Coalition will need to choose between the centre or extreme on climate Opinion Article

Jul 04, 2016 - 8:53am

An excerpt of this article first appeared in The Guardian on 03 July, 2016.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

Australia’s election results could actually support considered climate action, particularly when viewed in the context of community and mainstream business support.  But that will require assistance and leadership.


Polling shows support for climate action is at its highest since 2008. A very persuasive 66 per cent of Australians want our country to be a world leader in finding solutions to climate change. At the same time, an overwhelming majority, including over two thirds of Coalition supporters, think tackling climate change will create economic opportunities, such as new jobs and investment.


Mainstream business has been urging the integration of climate and energy policies, recognising the need for net zero emissions and highlighting the costs of piecemeal action.


With the major party numbers tight it is important to note that four out of five of the lower house crossbenchers support credible climate action. Only Bob Katter is ambivalent. Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie supported the previous carbon pricing mechanism and have strong and/or inclusive policies. Nick Xenophon’s team backed strong 2030 targets and look likely to gain three Senate seats. And it appears at least eight Green Senators will be returned.


As a matter of fact The Coalition, Labor, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) now all support emissions trading and renewable energy, albeit to varying degrees. Labor had stronger policies but both they and the Coalition share support for the Paris climate agreement’s goals of keeping global warming well below 2°C and the pursuit of limiting it to 1.5°C.


There is a centre that can support credible climate action and there are extremes with Hanson and others that won’t. Only the centre offers chances of political, investor and community stability.


If the Coalition manages to retain government, it will need to choose between the extremes and the centre on climate change and on other issues.


It will also need to choose between scare campaigns and substance. It was a bittersweet irony at best to hear the Coalition complain about scare campaigns given its colourful past of wrecking balls, cobra squeezes and distortions regarding the impacts of the carbon pricing mechanism. It continued this election with claims of a 78 per cent electricity price hike from Labor’s policies which were an extreme misrepresentation which got no traction.


A move beyond scare campaigns would be welcome but will need mediation from independent institutions and/or assistance from civil society and business partnerships such as the Australian Climate Roundtable of business, investor, welfare, union and environment groups.  


Though it has committed to a review of climate policies in 2017, and consideration of a long term emissions reduction target, the Coalition may benefit from bringing that process forward. It would certainly be supported by regular independent processes such as that offered by the Climate Change Authority - which has survived despite continued Coalition opposition.  


Oddly, after a week of Brexit chaos, our country can learn from a UK  decision welcomed across the political spectrum, by mainstream industry, by investors and by environmental activists. On Thursday, the Conservative UK government accepted the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change, responding to its regular carbon budget driven review process, and adopted an ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target.


Perhaps surprisingly, climate action in UK and in Australia could be a lifebuoy of stability amongst turbulent political waters. But it will require a clear choice. A choice for inclusive processes, independent institutions and considered deliberation. Not a choice for extremism, scare campaigns or deliberate distortions.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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