How Climate Change Fits in the Australian Elections
What’s the current government’s stance on climate?
It has done very little to suggest that it recognizes climate change as a clear and immediate danger in need of a major shift in policy. Last year, just before the international climate talks in Glasgow, it reluctantly agreed to a net-zero-by-2050 target, meaning that it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and make up for what it couldn’t remove with things like tree planting projects. It’s little more than a pledge. There’s not really a plan on how to get there.
That’s out of touch with most Australians. Polls show a majority would like to see their government tackle climate change more aggressively.
Is the governing conservative coalition still banking on coal?
Yes, and the opposition isn’t far behind. Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader fighting to become prime minister, said last month that a Labor government would support new coal mines, matching the pro-mining stance of the conservative Liberal-National coalition that’s now in power. It’s partly an effort to keep the support of blue-collar workers, but it’s also an attempt to avoid a repeat of what happened in the 2019 election when Labor lost over its apparent opposition to a big new coal mine in the state of Queensland. You wrote about that. It’s owned by the Indian conglomerate Adani, and that mine has since started exporting coal.
Coal is still king in many of the districts needed to win Australia’s election.
A handful of independents ran on climate issues in 2019. I met some of them when I went to Australia in the run-up to the last elections. What’s different now?
Well, there are more independents running. Around 25 of them. Most are professional women — lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs — who have been recruited by community groups eager to break the two-party gridlock on climate change.
They’re a loosely affiliated group, though they’re getting more coordinated. There’s more money coming their way from groups like Climate 200, which is essentially an Australian version of a political action committee. And there’s more energy. Some of their campaigns have thousands of volunteers, far more than the major party incumbents.
The question, of course, is still whether they have enough support to win more than a seat or two.
If the election is close, as is expected, the independents may be kingmakers. They may be the ones who decide whether to form a government with Labor or the Liberal-National coalition.