australia climate change policy

So, Where Does This Leave Australia’s Climate Change Policy?

Anyone else dealing with what feels like a post-election emotional hangover? There’s a lot to unpack about what just happened but honestly, we think we’d prefer to sleep for a week before trying that. Instead, let’s take a closer look at what the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win means for arguably the most important issue: the climate crisis. Australia’s climate change and environmental policy under the Liberal Morrison government has been quite weak.

As we breakdown in the below explainer, the Morrison government has long prioritised Australia’s increasingly outmoded mining industries and the “economy” over a radical and effective climate policy. While other countries are looking to clean energy and new environmental initiatives as a way to create jobs and boost their economies, Australia is pursuing… a “gas-led recovery.”

What does Australia’s current climate change policy involve?

As of this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rebuffed the idea that Biden’s election to the U.S. presidencies will impact Australia’s approach to climate change. “Australia will always set its policies based on Australia’s national interests and the contributions we’re making in these areas,” he said, per the ABC. “The United States will make their decisions based on their interests and their capabilities and how their economy is structured and we’ll do the same.”

Once again, he is refusing to budge or to set a target of net-zero emissions target. This puts us behind compared to other major players (and our trading partners) like the U.S., Japan, Korea, Europe, the U.K. and New Zealand. For the briefest explainer on where it sits right now, it’s been advised that to keep to the Paris Climate Agreement, we’d need to see a 45% cut in global emissions below 2010 levels by 2030.

The Morrison government has *rejected* the Climate Change Authority’s science-based emissions reduction of 45-60% by 2030, instead, they’re aiming for a cut of 26-28% below 2005 levels. This is wildly ill-advised. We’re already seeing the destruction climate change is wreaking across the planet. Missing these targets and increased warming will have catastrophic consequences.

For what it’s worth, that gas-led recovery plan? It involves about $18 billion dollars worth of investments into hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, soil carbon, storage options and ‘low-carbon’ steel and aluminium production. And who advised on this plan? The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which included some hand-picked businesses from the, wait for it, mining, gas and oil industries. Look at our shocked face.

Will Biden’s administration affect Australia’s climate change policy?

Biden has already advised that the U.S. will be rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump’s administration left. This recommits them to work to keep global temperature rises to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. He’s set the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and is looking to invest $2 trillion dollars over four years on clean energy.

Biden is looking into hydrogen, which at first seems like it could be a good thing considering Australia’s current plan. However, our investment could very quickly become irrelevant if other nations no longer want to work with Australia for it’s perceived childishness and reluctance to actually commit to significant emissions reduction targets.

Howard Bamsey, Australia’s former special envoy on climate change has said the Morrison government risks being left behind with no clear allies if it continues to drag its heels. “There’s no cover any longer with this,” Bamsey said, per The Guardian. “I think in Joe Biden’s first conversation with Scott Morrison, or the second, climate change will be mentioned. It’s been such an important part of his campaign and he clearly recognises the economic imperative for change.”

Another diplomat echoed Bamsey’s sentiments, “It means that the shadows that Australia has been hiding in are much smaller now, particularly with China, Korea and Japan having moved on net zero in recent weeks,” Bialek said. “It starts to smell like a government that doesn’t care about climate change.”

Look, we’re hopeful that not wanting to be that one asshole country who is playing down the seriousness of tackling climate change to ensure the survival of humanity would push Morrison into gear. But we’re also encouraging you to vote, email your representatives and keep the pressure and protests 🔛!

Lead image via Jordan Whitt.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.