Major parties fail #ClimateElection test

April 5, 2019

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg only mentioned the word “climate” twice in his election budget speech, and almost as an afterthought.

The lack of priority given to the urgent problem of climate change was revealed by the spare change that the Coalition government allocated for climate change measures in the budget: $3.5 billion, most of which will not even be spent in the next four years.

This compares to hundreds of billions allocated to polluting infrastructure, corporate tax cuts and government subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

The dismal offering from the Coalition makes Labor’s new climate policy appear decent by comparison.

But that is a low bar to set.

While Labor's policy includes some good measures, it falls far short of the emergency plan needed to respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's conservative estimate that we have 12 years to turn the situation around.

It is a case of “pretending to care” rather than solving the problem.

Labor's policy includes a mandated push towards more electric cars, greater support for renewable energy and a higher emissions reduction targets than the Coalition.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they are inadequate and fail to fundamentally challenge the corporate interests driving climate change.

To do this, we would need strict government-imposed targets for emission reductions throughout all sectors of the economy.

Moreover, the most polluting industries, along with those that resist emission reductions, would have to be brought under public ownership so that the transition to a sustainable economy could be managed democratically, effectively and fairly.

However, the biggest elephant in the room regarding Labor's policy is the lack of a plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The Institute for Sustainable Futures’ Nicky Ison wrote in The Conversation that “fossil fuels, particularly the mining and export of coal are Australia's biggest contribution to climate change”.

“Yet [Labor]'s policy contains only two mentions of coal, nothing on coal exports, and no mention of gas. Labor is evidently still sitting on the fence on the future of the controversial Adani coalmine, and on the question of fossil fuel subsidies more generally.

“While it may be politically convenient to let the Coalition tear itself apart over coal, the scientific reality is that to have a hope of limiting warming to 1.5℃, Australia needs to rapidly move away from coal both domestically and for exports.

“This is not something Labor will be able to ignore for long.”

It is certainly something not being ignored by striking school students. As a result of the first two student strikes, an informal coalition of organisations including School Strike 4 Climate, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Tipping Point, among others, are pushing to turn the coming federal election into a “#ClimateElection”.

Their demands include: Stop the Adani coalmine; no new coal, oil or gas; and shift to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The Socialist Alliance not only supports these demands — it has a realistic plan to rapidly reduce emissions across the whole economy.

Only the socialists are actively pushing to bring the entire energy sector back into public ownership to ensure a planned and rapid phase out of fossil fuels.

Climate change is one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of market failure in our times.

We need socialist solutions to address it.

[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]

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