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Australia went to vote and removed the government in power nine years ago
Anthony Albanese

Voters voted for a left turn. The elected government will be decisive for the climate policy adopted in the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases from coal consumption – but it all still depends on which party it chooses to form a majority. Only one deputy is missing.

Australia went to the polls on Saturday to elect a new government, in an election seen as key to defining the country’s approach to the climate crisis, in a country where climate policy has influenced the fall of three prime ministers in just a decade.

Voters pushed aside the current government that had been in power since 2013. Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat as soon as the preliminary results were known. The official results confirmed a heavy defeat: the party won 50 seats, 26 fewer than in previous elections.

Conversely, the opposition won seven more terms. With 75 deputies, the Labor Party is one of those needed for an absolute majority. Leader Anthony Albanese has expressed confidence that he will be able to govern with a minority bench, but the partners he chooses could play a key role in the future of Australia (and the world).

ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY WAS A HOT TOPIC IN THE ELECTORAL RACE

In recent years, the subcontinent has faced extreme drought, unprecedented wildfires, successive years of record-breaking floods, and six massive bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change and is moving 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 released in 2021 during COP26 (United Nations Conference on Climate Change), Australia has the highest volume of per capita coal emissions worldwide. It is five times larger than the global average and 40% larger than any other major consumer of coal power. Despite having only 0.3% of the world’s population, the country is responsible for 1% of the world’s emissions. If emissions resulting from exports are considered, the country is responsible for 3.6% of global emissions.

According to the BBC, opinion polls indicate that a majority of voters favor more robust climate action. In recent weeks there have been several climate protests in various Australian cities. However, there are some mining towns in shifting constituencies that are critical to winning elections.

UNAMBITIOUS GOALS OF THE OUTGOING GOVERNMENT WOULD MEAN A 3°C INCREASE IF ADOPTED BY OTHER GOVERNMENTS

The outgoing government has been heavily criticized due to inactivity in the field of climate action. In October 2021, the topic generated special controversy when they announced the short-term emission reduction target (which stood at half of what the IPCC considers necessary for the world to be able to limit warming to 1.5°C and much 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) managed to establish the country’s commitment to reduce emissions to 0% in 2050. However, his deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (National Party) is publicly against this measure, having publicly stated that Australians in rural areas will have to “grab a shotgun and start slaughtering their cattle” to meet these targets.

On the side of the opposition that will now be able to form a government, the Labor Party wants to establish an emissions reduction of 43% by 2030, a more ambitious plan than the 26% intended by the outgoing government. With this goal, it would be possible to limit global warming to about 1.6ºC. Even if it falls short of the IPCC recommendations, it would put Australia in line with its main partners (Canada, South Korea and Japan), defends the labor leader, Anthony Albanese.

Under this coalition, activities with high emissions – 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 has not promised to close mines and has even assumed that it will not oppose new exploration if it makes commercial sense. Alternatively, it proposes to make electric cars cheaper and improve storage options in renewable energy.

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 considered risky by experts.

WITHOUT ABSOLUTE MAJORITY, CHOICE OF GOVERNMENT PARTNERS MAY DICTATE THE AMBITION OF THE NEW CLIMATE POLICY

Historically, the country alternates between the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party. However, these elections mark only the third time that an absolute majority of the 151 parliamentary seats has not been achieved (it had only happened previously in 1940 and 2010).

However, as in other countries, the electorate has dispersed.

In these elections, a very significant 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 Labor Party), who have now gone from three to occupy ten seats in Parliament. A partnership with this group of liberals – mostly women funded primarily by small donors – could mean renegotiating the 2030 emissions target to 50%.

Alternatively, the Labor Party could turn to smaller parties as governing partners.

In the ballot paper, there were several options with diametrically opposed positions on this matter. While the Greens consider that achieving zero emissions would be a death sentence and defend a 75% cut by 2030 and carbon neutrality five years later, the far-right populist One Nation Party promotes 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 goals established by the outgoing government.

Source: With Agencies

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