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Australian election key to action on climate
Politics closely tied to issue in Australia
Question of the Day
Environmentalists around the world will be watching Saturday’s national election results in Australia, which they say could have a global impact on efforts to combat climate change.
“There is no doubt that the direction of Australia’s national climate-change policy rests on the result of the election,” said Kate Cecys, international fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Recent polls show a close contest between the ruling Labor Party and the opposition coalition led by the Liberal Party.
Ms. Cecys noted that both parties have called for a national minimum reduction of greenhouse gases of 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and for action on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
But “the primary distinction relates to putting a price tag on carbon pollution,” she said. “Labor supports such an approach beginning in 2013, while the Liberals do not.”
Australia’s last two prime ministers have both been casualties of environmental politics:
*In December 2007, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard lost his bid for a fifth term in no small part due to his government’s failure to ratify the domestically popular Kyoto Protocols.
*In June, his successor, Labor’s Kevin Rudd, was toppled in a surprise intraparty coup by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard after his government abandoned its failed efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill.
“Rudd had this incredibly high approval rating - it was astronomical - and then it started to fall off,” said Alan Tidwell, director of Georgetown’s Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies. “The criticism for some was that he had taken the moral issue of the century and said, ‘I guess it’s not that important.’ “
After holding a commanding lead in the polls, Miss Gillard, a staunch environmentalist, now finds herself in a dead heat with Liberal leader Tony Abbott. Unlike the previous Liberal leader, Mr. Abbott is a self-described climate-change skeptic and opposes putting a price tag on carbon pollution.
Australia is the world’s 16th-largest carbon emitter - and the No. 1 emitter on a per-capita basis. But it’s global contribution to greenhouse gases amounts to barely 1 percent.
Still, environmentalists say that foot-dragging by developed countries like Australia gives developing countries like China and India excuses for not taking steps of their own.
Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the National Resources Defense Council, cited Canada’s recent backsliding on emissions targets as an example.
“A country like Canada is not significant in the grand scheme of emissions, but when they don’t live up to their commitments, it sends a signal to developing countries that maybe the developed countries aren’t as serious as they say they are,” Mr. Schmidt said. “The same is true for Australia.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.
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