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How Australia bungled climate policy to create a decade of disappointment

Mark Butler MP, federal Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, comments in The Guardian (5.7.17) on how Australia has never had climate policy consensus – and it has been costly in terms of energy sector certainty and positive action on climate change.

'In the lead-up to the 2015 general election in the United Kingdom, the leaders of the three major parties sat down together and signed a statement on climate-change policy that would seem unimaginable to Australians. They agreed that “climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today” and undertook “to work together across party lines to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act”. They pledged “to accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient, low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation”, meaning that the last coal-fired power station will be closed in the United Kingdom in 2025 at the latest.

'The 2015 UK election – true to the pledge signed by party leaders – saw no real debate over climate change or energy policy, other than a minor skirmish over the balance between onshore and offshore wind power. In the context of the deep cuts in pollution and the profound transition in the energy sector agreed by the parties, the absence of bare-knuckled fighting over these policies was amazing for Australian observers. Within 12 months, UK politics was then thrown into turmoil by the referendum decision to terminate the nation’s membership of the European Union – Brexit. But in the wake of that momentous vote, the Committee on Climate Change still recommended an ambitious carbon reduction target for the five-year period 2028-32 that is equivalent to Australia committing to a 61% cut against the 2005 baseline used by the Australian government. The budget was quietly endorsed by both parties shortly after.

'The politics of climate change could hardly be more different in Australia than they appear to be in the UK. Climate change – or “global warming” – only emerged as a political issue across the world less than 30 years ago. In that time, Australia has been unable to reach an enduring consensus about even the core elements of a policy response to an issue that scientists agree will present enormous challenges to our vulnerable continent. And, on the rare occasions a consensus has appeared to be forming, it has been struck down by a combination of industry, media and political opposition.'


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