"I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic… and act as if the house was on fire. Because it is." – Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist
In October last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the world that to limit the increase in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C – the very maximum increase humanity should allow – we would need to slash global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030.
This is the latest warning, and it may be the last before we face economic, societal and environmental collapse due to climate change.
In 1956 The New York Times published a story with the following headline: “Warmer Climate on the Earth May Be Due to More Carbon Dioxide in the Air”.
It then took 23 years for the first World Climate Conference to be organised; another decade for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be formed in 1988; the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; and another five years still to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, the first global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
During this time the planet warmed almost 0.5°C. It has warmed another 0.5°C between the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and today.
This is the disaster that centuries of capitalism has wrought and nothing short of a radical restructuring of our economic and social relations can head off this existential crisis. Clearly, political parties should be working together to adopt bold, fearless, transformative policies.
Labor Climate policy
- reducing greenhouse emissions by 45% of 2005 levels by 2030;
- committing to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030;
- lowering the emissions cap on the Coalition’s “safeguard mechanism” from 100,000 to 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions per year, making an additional 100 large polluters subject to pollution controls;
- restoring the Climate Change Authority and introducing triennial climate change assessments;
- introducing a national electric vehicles target of 50% of all new sales by 2030, with half of all government fleet vehicles to be electric by 2025, supported by a $200 million Australia-wide charging network;
- phasing in vehicle emission standards for the first time to stop the dumping of high-emitting vehicles on the Australian market; and
- adopting the Coalition’s now-abandoned National Energy Guarantee while also injecting $10 billion into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in renewable and low-emissions technologies.
The Greens’ climate change policies are far more ambitious than Labor’s. The “Renew Australia 2030” plan includes the following proposals:
- reducing greenhouse emissions by 63-82% relative to 2005 levels by 2030, with Australia becoming carbon-neutral by 2040;
- introducing a carbon price and binding national emission limits for each year through to 2050;
- phasing out fossil fuel-based electricity generation and becoming 100% renewable by 2030;
- ending all coal exports by 2030 and building a multi-billion-dollar clean energy export industry in its place;
- establishing a government-owned energy retailer;
- enshrining all emissions reduction targets in law; and
- banning all new internal combustion vehicles by 2030 and bringing down the price of electrical vehicles.
The Liberal Party’s climate policies, contained within its “Protecting Our Environment” plan, fall far short of the measures proposed by Labor and The Greens. The proposals include:
- reducing greenhouse emissions by 26-28% relative to 2005 levels by 2030 (in line with our Paris Agreement commitment);
- creating a $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund, an extension of Tony Abbott’s “direct action” Emissions Reduction Fund;
- committing to 23.5% renewable energy by 2020;
- completing the Snowy Hydro 2.0 at a cost of $1.4 billion;
- expanding Tasmania’s “Battery of the Nation” pumped hydro project; and
- developing a National Electric Vehicle Strategy to plan a transition to electric vehicles, which the government’s own climate modelling assumes will comprise 25-50% of new car sales by 2030.
The Liberal Party’s policies reflect its domination by climate science skeptics and fossil fuel-industry boosters. It is essentially no change from the polices set by Tony Abbott in 2013.
The Greens’ policies, in sharp contrast, are the kind of bold, go-for-broke proposals that these times call for and Labor would do well to drop its focus on the Greens vote in 2009 and build on its cooperative climate policy with the Greens of 2011.
The Climate Council called Labor’s climate policy a “substantial leap forward”, but they also warned that the 45% emissions reduction target, while above our Paris target, remains below the 65% level that the science tells us is needed to avoid global temperature rises of more than 1.5°C. They criticised Labor for remaining largely non-committal on coal and fossil fuels.
We agree. Labor’s plan is encouraging, but it is not ambitious enough for the scale of the existential crisis we face. The gravity and urgency of the climate challenge means we must hold Labor to a higher standard than merely being better than the hopeless Morrison government.
What can we do?
The huge, diverse community movement for action on global warming must not stop if there is a change of government. The emissions reduction target has to rise to meet the IPCC standard if Australia is to play a serious part in accelerating the global level of carbon emission cuts.
To overcome the politically driven social divisions in Australia over climate policy, the idea of a Just Transition for carbon intensive communities must be a top priority, with community-driven development plans heavily backed by the Federal Government. That is the alternative to ‘coal jobs’ promised by the likes of Adani.
Serious discussion of a Green New Deal for Australia is already underway - you can contribute to that here. We need democratic, worker and community-driven transformation of the whole economy to save our future, and that means an end to big corporate control of the vital decisions. So we all need to engage more, not less, after May 18.
This statement and the related policy papers are presented as part of the SEARCH Foundation’s work for a democratic, ecological, socialist Australia, based on increased public and social ownership, cooperative mechanisms and workers self-management, that enable people to have an effective voice in all decision-making. Please share them with your networks in the community and at work.
Authorised by L Whitington, SEARCH Foundation, Suite 8, Level 5, 377 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000. May 2019.