At last year’s Glasgow climate summit, Australia was shunned for failing to match other rich states’ ambitious targets. Its status as a climate outlier, rooted in the determination of Scott Morrison’s conservative government to turn global warming into a wedge issue between left and right, now appears set to change after an election that put the Labor Party back in power for the first time in almost a decade.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in as prime minister on Monday, has said the party will maintain its target of cutting carbon emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. That is lower than the reduction scientists say is required but more ambitious than the outgoing conservative government's Paris target of a cut of up to 28 per cent. Albanese, who has a reputation as a non-ideological pragmatist, ran a cautious election campaign that pledged to put Australia's "climate wars" behind it with a more serious emissions reduction plan but at the same time sought to reassure the country's fossil fuel export industry that Labor would not block it from developing new coal mines and gasfields. The party made gains in coal-mining areas in the general election last Saturday.
A good deal hinges on the final composition of the lower house when counting concludes in the coming days. If Labor does not secure an outright majority, the balance of power would be held by the Greens, who won their biggest vote on Saturday, forcing Labor to negotiate with the smaller party to pass legislation. The Greens have indicated that blocking all new coal and gas developments would be the party's priority in any post-election talks and that it wants more ambitious emissions reduction commitments.
In an election in which the combined support for the two main parties actually declined, the breakthrough of the Greens and other climate-focused independents signals an important rebuke of a mainstream political culture that has failed abysmally to recognise the scale of the crisis it faces or the urgency to act to mitigate it now.