By Jim Hayes
Chris Bowen, Australia’s new climate minister has vowed to cut taxes on electric vehicles and a $20 billion “rewiring the nation” commitment to build a renewable energy grid. A climate bill will be introduced into the parliament. This bill includes a target to reduce carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. There will be discussions with state governments on how to implement this. The Climate Changer authority will be returned to its former authority, to give science-based advice on a new emissions target by 2035.
These initiatives mark a significant advance form the policy of the previous Coalition government. It brings Australia up to much of the rest of the world. On the one hand, this is a turn for the better. On the other, critics argue that this is still not enough. There is still no plan to wean Australia away from dependency on fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel dependency is about more than electric cars. It involves changing how the economy is built around its use. Ongoing economic reliance on the export of fossil fuels will mean that rather than reducing the carbon footprint, it will just be moved to somewhere else.
The minister has announced that the country’s 215 industrial sites will gradually be required to cut their emissions or buy carbon offsets. Australia’s controversial carbon offsets scheme will now be temporary and overseen independently of government.
Experts working on the science say that the stated 2030 target is still not enough to limit global warming to 1.5c. They are calling for raising the target to 50 to 70 percent. This would set the pace to reach zero net emissions by 2050.
The Greens and Independents are calling for a more ambitious target. They want a commitment to ensure no new gas and oil fields are opened. There should be no new government finance for fossil fuels.
Chris Bowen says that Labor has a mandate. There is another mandate. That which saw the reshaping of parliament and brought in a government with the lowest share of the vote and the biggest crossbench ever. The call from Australia for much more action on climate was a big part of this. It would do the Albanese government well to listen to and accept this.
A more ambitious target means that a great deal of attention must be paid to making the transition with as little pain as possible. Government investment to give rise to new industries and technologies, and support for those in our community facing hardship are called for. This is especially true for regions currently depending on the fossil fuel industry.