Australia went to the polls on Saturday to elect a new government, in an election seen as fundamental to defining the country’s approach to the climate crisis, in a country where the climate policy has influenced the downfall of three prime ministers in just a decade.
Voters dismissed the current government in power since 2013. Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat as soon as the preliminary results were known. You official results confirmed a heavy defeat: the party won 50 seats, 26 less than in the previous elections.
Conversely, the opposition won seven more mandates. With 75 MPs, the Labor Party is one of those needed for an absolute majority. Chief Anthony Albanese has said he is confident he can govern with a minority bench, but the partners he chooses could play a key role in Australia’s (and the world’s) future.
Environmental policy was a hot topic in the election race
In recent years, the subcontinent has faced extreme drought, unprecedented wildfires, successive years of record flooding and six massive bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change and is heading towards a future full of natural disasters.
However, the country remains heavily dependent on coal and is a major global supplier of fossil fuels. According to an analysis published in 2021 during COP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference), Australia has higher issue volume per inhabitant of coal in the world. It is five times larger than the world average and 40% larger than any other major consumer of coal energy. Although it has only 0.3% of the world’s population, the country is responsible for 1% of global emissions. If we consider emissions resulting from exports, the country is responsible for 3.6% of global emissions.
According to the BBCopinion studies indicate that A majority of voters advocate stronger climate action. In recent weeks, several climate protests have taken place in various Australian cities. However, some mining towns in shifting constituencies are key to winning elections.
The outgoing government’s unambitious targets would mean a 3°C rise if adopted by other governments
O government which now ceases to function has been heavily criticized for its inactivity in the field of climate action. In October 2021, the subject generated particular controversy when the short-term emissions reduction target (which was half of what the IPCC considers necessary for the world to limit global warming) was announced. at 1.5°C and widely criticized for being based on technologies that do not yet exist).
Last year, in anticipation of COP26 and after years of internal campaigning within the coalition itself, the government of Scott Morrison (Liberal Party) succeeded in establish the country’s commitment to reduce its emissions to 0% by 2050. However, your Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (National Party) is publicly against this measure, after publicly stating that rural Australians will have to “grab a shotgun and start slaughtering their cattle” to achieve these goals.
On the opposition side, which will now be able to form a government, the Labor Party wants to introduce a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030., a more ambitious plan than the 26% planned by the outgoing government. With this objective, it would be possible to limit global warming to around 1.6 ºC. Even if it is below the recommendations of the IPCC, it would put Australia in line with its main partners (Canada, South Korea and Japan), defends the union leader, Anthony Albanese.
Under this coalition, high-emitting activities – such as the mining sector – would remain protected. For its part, Labor promises not to put these sectors at a disadvantage vis-à-vis international competitors. The party did not promise to close the mines and even assumed that it would not oppose further exploration if it made business sense. Alternatively, he proposes making electric cars cheaper and improving storage options in renewables.
On both sides, the hope is that the market will be able to phase in the use of coal without direct state intervention, a strategy deemed risky by experts.
Without an absolute majority, the choice of government partners could dictate the ambition of the new climate policy
Historically, the country alternates between the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party. However, these elections are only the third time that the absolute majority of the 151 parliamentary seats has not been obtained (had only happened before in 1940 and 2010).
However, as in other countries, the the electorate dispersed.
During these elections, a very large share of the votes went to the high-profile candidates dubbed “teal independents” (“blue-green independents”, in a reference that places them somewhere between the National and the Labor Party), which three now occupy ten seats in Parliament. Partnering with this group of liberals — mostly women funded primarily by small donors — could mean renegotiating the 2030 emissions target to 50%.
Alternatively, Labor could turn to the small parties as government partners.
On the ballot, there were several options with diametrically opposed positions on this issue. While the Greens consider reaching zero emissions a death sentence and defend a 75% reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality five years later, the far-right populist party One Nation presents itself as the only party that questions climate change and wants to eliminate already established targets.
In the end, only the Central Alliance and Katter’s Australian Party managed to retain one mandate each, while the Greens lost their only deputy. The two elected parties defend the maintenance of the objectives set by the outgoing government.