Almost 60% of voters want “much more” cuts to emissions with 79% supporting further action, as we approach the 2022 federal election, although major differences exist along party lines. We are currently on track for at least 2.7oC warming this century (UNEP, 2021). The leader we choose to lead the country on the 21st of May could determine whether we get to net-zero by 2050.
Australia has a disproportionately large global emissions footprint. Between 2015 and 2020, our per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 5.34t CO2 per capita each year, the highest in the world. Australia’s 1.4% contribution to global carbon emissions also increases to around 5% when our fossil fuel exports are added (coal: 2.9%, LNG: 0.6%).
“Climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”Hoesung Lee – IPCC Chair
What qualities should our next leader have?
Scientifically literate and accepting of expert evidence
This leader listens to climatologists and other experts and acts wisely on that advice. They understand the risks and costs of inaction and implement long-term strategies beyond the 3-year electoral cycle.
Our leader has secured bipartisan support in parliament and acts to reduce emissions. Public concerns are addressed through educational programs highlighting the challenges, strategies and progress, particularly on job transitions, electric vehicles (EV) and green hydrogen.
Our Pacific neighbours are consulted, and their concerns treated with respect and sensitivity.
Our new leader develops a comprehensive, transparent and effective decarbonisation strategy to enable the transition to a renewables-led economy. Fair job transitions and climate change mitigation and adaptation become central to government operations.
Supports the switch to renewables
The private sector is actively encouraged to switch to green energy through a raft of policies focused on renewables. Fossil fuel subsidies ($11.6 billion in 2021/2022, The Australia Institute) are phased out, with that spending redirected to transitional job support and retraining, and strengthening renewables industries including wind, solar and green hydrogen.
The renewables boom is challenging ageing power networks as regional areas increasingly become sites for green energy generation.
Our leader gives the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) the power to move more quickly on infrastructure projects. Infrastructure upgrades are also completed for green energy distribution within regional areas to support decarbonisation of their agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors.
“Stronger transmission infrastructure, big batteries, and pumped hydro and gas plants, providing on-demand energy, would be vital to ensuring a smooth transition.”— AEMO CEO, Daniel Westerman.
Transport contributes 19% of Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Our ideal leader acts on the IPCC’s advice (“Electric vehicles powered by low-emissions electricity offer the largest decarbonisation potential for land-based transport”), and that of the Grattan Institute, phasing out sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035. EVs are made more affordable by declassification as luxury cars, and removal of stamp and import duties. Building code policies are introduced to ensure ease of charging at home, at work, and on the road.
Low emission and electric vehicle uptake is improved by introducing carbon dioxide emission performance standards (EPS) as suggested by Peter Martin, (ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy), following the EU’s lead.
European carbon dioxide emission performance standards
New European-registered cars must now be low or zero emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement. Average European passenger car emissions fell 12% in 2020 and the market share of electric cars tripled. Martin suggests that there is no incentive for European manufacturers to sell electric cars in Australia because they are more valuable to them in countries with CO2 emission performance standards. [RM1]
Agriculture accounts for about 15% of GHG emissions, 75% of that from cattle and sheep.
Our ideal leader publicly supports the National Farmers Federation’s commitment to net zero by 2050, and the grain growers’ and red meat sector’s net zero 2030 targets.
Legislation passed, after consultation with agricultural representatives, includes provision of tax incentives to encourage the switch to EVs. Market differentiation is also encouraged, to incentivise ACCU (Australian Carbon Credit Units) quality, by rewarding projects that achieve extra environmental benefits. The public education program, mentioned earlier, also targets landowners, explaining the financial costs and benefits of transition and the required break-even carbon price.
Our ideal leader
Wise enough to listen to climate scientists and the IPCC, empathetic enough to successfully engage with the electorate and both sides of politics, this mover and shaker is leader enough to focus political will on securing our future.