Population versus policies

The past decade has delivered policy uncertainty and leadership turmoil, however Australians know what they want: strong action with Australia playing a leading role climate action. Everyday Australians also want to see the orderly phasing out of coal-fired power and overwhelmingly support clean, renewable energy with solar power continuing to be Australia’s most preferred source of energy. 

Most crucially, Australians do not think the Government is doing enough to address climate change, according to The Australia Institute’s latest report Climate of the Nation 2018, Tracking Australia’s attitudes towards climate change and energy.

The report found that Australians are increasingly concerned about the impacts of climate change, particularly the effects of rising temperatures, heatwaves and extremely hot days, and they do not believe government is doing enough on climate change, the TAI says.

People blame electricity companies, privatisation and federal government policy uncertainty for electricity price rises and more people disagree that coal has a strong economic future, preferring the government invest taxpayer’s money in renewable energy infrastructure.

“This is a message our elected representatives would do well to listen to as we head towards the next federal election,” said TAI which produced this issue of the Climate of the Nation after a decade at the hands of the Climate Institute.

The 2018 Climate of the Nation report was launched this week in Parliament House by former Liberal party leader and Professor at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, John Hewson.

Key findings include:

  • 73% of Australians are concerned about climate change, up from 66% in 2017
  • 70% of Australians agree that the Government needs to implement a plan to ensure the orderly closure of old coal plants and their replacement with clean energy,
  • 67% want to end coal-fired power within the next 20 years, up from 61% in 2017
  • 15% of Nationals voters do not think climate change is occurring (down from 29% in 2017), and 45% of One Nation voters agree the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated, down from 56% in 2017
  • The majority of Australians (52%) blame the privatisation of electricity generation and supply for increasing electricity prices

“Climate change is happening and Australians are concerned about the impacts. More Australians accept the reality of climate change than at almost any time since Climate of the Nation began in 2007. Three quarters (76%, up from 71% 2017) of Australians accept that climate change is occurring, 11% do not think that climate change is occurring and 13% are unsure,” the report stated.

The TAI report was released at the same time as UN chief Antonio Guterres was calling on the world to rapidly shift from its dependence on fossil fuels to prevent runaway climate change, saying the world faces a direct existential threat.

“Climate change is moving faster than we are … we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action,” said Guterres, highlighting the absence of global leadership in addressing global warming with too many world leaders refusing to listen or act “with the vision the science demands”.

Meanwhile record-breaking temperatures and extreme heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods are leaving “a trail of death and devastation”.

Guterres also warned that the limit of 2 degrees was the bare minimum necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, however science shows that is far off the mark to avoid severe consequences. Much greater targets need to be set in a world with a rapid move away from fossil fuels. The alternative presents “a dark and dangerous future” he said.

“We need to replace [fossil fuels] with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm.

“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us,” he warned.

Australia, it has to be said, is not yet on track to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

The ClimateWorks Australia report Tracking Progress to net zero emissions released this week states Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to achieve the federal government’s target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and triple progress to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The report found Australia’s emissions were 11 per cent below 2005 levels in 2017 but have been steadily increasing since 2013. If Australia sustained the rate of improvement in emissions intensity it had achieved between 2005 and 2013, it could meet the government's 2030 target. But progress has stalled in most sectors and reversed overall.

The report assesses Australia’s progress on reducing emissions at the halfway point from the 2005 base year to 2030, looking across the whole of economy as well as in key sectors – electricity, industry, buildings, transport and land.

ClimateWorks Australia chief executive Anna Skarbek said overall progress was mainly due to one sector – land – achieving strong emissions reductions which masked growth in energy emissions in industry, buildings and transport.

“The data shows national emissions progress since 2005 was driven by reduced land clearing and increased afforestation, some increases in energy efficiency and a slight reduction in power emissions as more renewable energy entered the market,” she said.

“However, emissions are now higher than 2005 levels in the industry, buildings and transport sectors. While there were improvements in each sector at times, none of the sectors improved consistently at a rate required to meet the government’s 2030 target or the Paris Agreement goal of net zero emissions by mid-century.”

Anna Skarbek said the research showed that emissions are not projected to fall any further by 2030 under current and proposed policies.

“Going forward to 2030, there is three times the potential needed to reach the government’s current 2030 target, but projections show this will not be harnessed under current policy settings.

“However, it is still possible to build on areas of recent momentum if Australia implements further policies that guide investment in a cleaner economy,” she said.  “Our research shows Australia has the potential to reach 55 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and this would set our economy on the net zero emissions pathway needed for the Paris Agreement.”

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