With a Federal Election looming, Australia’s political parties have released details of their policies on environmental issues such as climate change, renewable energy, and protecting the Great Barrier Reef. With so much to trudge through, it can be difficult to decipher differences on important issues.
Numerous environmental and lobby groups have created their own ‘score-cards’, rating the major parties on the credibility of proposed policies. These bite-sized evaluations cast a critical eye on where the parties stand when it comes to Australia’s environmental future, and can help create clarity for voting decisions.
With such a large amount of information on hand, here is a three-stage guide to the environmental policies of the Liberal Party, Labor Party, and The Greens.
1. Reducing carbon emissions
Increasing global temperatures and concentrations of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere are putting pressure on the environment and human societies. Within the last decade, climate policy has become one of the most important battling grounds for political parties. The Paris Climate Agreement set out a goal of keeping global warming below 2°C , identifying the mitigation of global emissions as vital to achieving this. How do the major parties stack up in achieving this goal?
Liberal Party of Australia
The Liberal Party has established modest targets for reducing carbon emissions, with an aim of 28% decrease by 2030 based on 2005 levels.
They have also committed to a National Energy Productivity Plan, supporting investments in new technology such as solar storage. The plan aims to improve energy productivity by 40% between 2015 and 2030. However, there are concerns around the success of this plan in the absence of strong leadership and ongoing funding.
The Climate Institute has labelled the Coalition’s target as inadequate, stating that “if other nations were to have a similar emission reduction targets to that of the Coalition, the result would be 3-4°C of global warming, with devastating impacts for Australia.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation scored the Coalition 2 out of 5 for a target that is ‘effective, durable, scalable and able to achieve the goal of reducing Australia’s climate pollution to net zero by 2050 at the latest’. However it scored the Coalition zero for lacking a commitment to keep and adequately fund the Climate Change Authority, or a similar independent authority to advise on climate change.
Australian Labor Party
Labor has set a long term goal of net zero pollution by 2050. Labor has also set a target of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 based on 2005 levels.
Labor has also committed $17.4 million over the forward estimates to support the Climate Change Authority and ensure it is adequately resourced.
The ACF identified Labor’s 2030 target as much more plausibly able to deliver the goal of reducing Australia’s climate pollution to net zero by 2050, giving it a score of 4.5 out of 5.
However its score of 1 out of 5 for adequately funding the Climate Change Authority suggests that the $17.4 million funding is insufficient.
The Climate Institute Insitute expressed serious concerns with the adequacy of Labor’s targets, claiming “if countries had similar targets currently supported by Labor, the world would warm by 2-3°C, also with huge threats for Australians.”
The Greens have set out ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions by 63-82% by 2030, based on 2005 levels. This ties into their renewable energy policy (discussed in further detail below), as well as an intent to ban all new coal and unconventional gas mines.
The Climate Institute scorecard suggests these targets “lead on resilience policy but risk inflexibility”, and suggests that it is heavily reliant on a new government agency and investment to drive the transformation of the electricity system.
The Australian Conservation Foundation rated The Greens very highly on their targets and the ability of these targets to reduce Australia’s climate pollution to net zero by 2050, with a 5 out of 5 score. However funding for the Climate Change Authority is not heavily featured in the Greens’ policy platform, despite support for NCCARF and CSIRO for sustained climate change research, giving them a score of 1 out of 5.
2. Renewable energy
A vital step to achieving reduced carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of global warming lies in the transition to renewable energy. Here is how the major political parties plan to go about this transition.
Liberal Party of Australia
The Liberal Party has pledged to double renewable energy in Australia over four years to 2020. Their Renewable Energy Target seeks to ensure 23% of Australia’s electricity will come from renewable energy by 2020.
However the Liberal Party has no target for renewable energy beyond 2020 as part of the RET, creating long term uncertainty. Environment Victoria rated the Liberal Party’s renewable energy policy poorly for cutting funding from clean energy. WWF was also critical of the lack of any form of 100% renewable energy plan.
The Australian Conservation Foundation scored the Coalition poorly (-1 out of 5) for lacking any intent to phase on uranium mining, and lacking a commitment to stop public subsidies for fossil fuel industries (0 out of 5).
Australian Labor Party
Labor has a policy aim of 50% renewable energy by 2030.
As part of this, Labor has pledged to commit $200m for clean energy and $98.8m for a Community Power Network.
They also have plans to double Australia’s energy productivity by 2030. The Climate Institute calls this an “ambitious goal” and says Labor “currently lacks strategy to achieve it”. This indicates ambiguity.
However Labor continues to support the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, albeit “with the full grant making capacity of the latter in doubt.”
Overall, The Climate Institute assesses Labor’s policy as “having pathways to credibility, [but] greater clarity required.”
The Greens have an ambitious target of at least 90% renewables by 2030.
To achieve this, they are committing to new coal or gas approvals, and proposing a 50 per cent refundable tax credit for household solar energy storage systems, including a grant scheme for low-income earners.
Other initiatives include a ‘right to solar’ for tenants, allowing them to apply for no up-front cost solar with the assurance that a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse.
The Climate Institute has praised the Greens “focus on a transition to clean energy with orderly retirement of high-carbon coal generators and support for community”. However it is critical of a “heavy reliance on a new government agency and major government spending to drive the transformation” behind its ambitious targets.
3. Protecting the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a unique marine habitat and is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. The reef also provides 69,000 jobs and $6 billion per year to the Australian economy. However the reef is under increasing threat from the impacts of climate change. Warming oceans are causing widespread coral bleaching, a process by which the fragile symbiotic relationship between coral and algae is compromised, leaving usually vibrant coral a stark white.
Other threats to the reef include land-based run-off causing poor water quality, coastal development, and illegal fishing. Here is how the major parties plan to tackle these challenges.
Liberal Party of Australia
The Liberal Party has committed $210 million to reduce run-off that affects water quality in the Great Barrier Reef.
They also have plans to divert $1 billion from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation over 10 years toward clean energy projects that will help improve water quality, and funding for projects to help remove invasive species like the crown of thorns starfish.
Despite this, the Australian Conservation Foundation rates the Coalition a 0 out of 5 for its provision of “an effective national system of nature protection laws to protect and improve the health of Australia’s air, land, water and biodiversity by December 2018.”
The WWF scorecard raises concerns about the unanswered questions around the scale of likely on-ground investment for improving the reef water quality.
Australian Labor Party
Labor has pledged $500 million, $377 of which is new money, in research, co-ordination and environmental programs to conserve the Great Barrier Reef.
They would also invest an additional $50 million in the CSIRO for climate and reef research.
The Fight for the Reef campaign labels Labor as a “strong champion for the reef”.
However the Australian Conservation Foundation scores Labor’s commitment to clean waters for the reef as “partly met”. Labor claims it will reduce nitrogen runoff to the Reef by up to 80% and sediment runoff by up to 50% by 2025 in key catchments, as part of a plan for direct investment to improve water quality.
Nevertheless, final funding allocations are vague as Labor claims they will be made “based on best value for taxpayer money and merit”.
Overall Fight for the Reef says Labor’s promise to increase funds by $377 million “is a good down payment, but it’s not enough.”
The Greens’ plan for preserving the Great Barrier Reef includes a commitment to no new coal mines or gas approvals.
The Greens would pledge $500 million in new funding over five years to assist farmers with the transition to more sustainable practices to reduce agricultural run-off which affects water quality.
They currently project their funding goals for water quality initiatives at $370 million over 5 years, as well as $8m in additional funding for coral bleaching research.
Other proposals include a plan to ban super trawlers, and more funding to stop illegal fishing.
The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) gives the Greens a perfect environmental scorecard, praising a moratorium on new coal projects.
Fight for the Reef labels The Greens a “strong champion for the reef”, with clear laws to stop farm pollution flowing in to reef waters. The WWF considers The Greens to have a clear “committed policy” to clean waters for the Great Barrier Reef.
The 2016 Federal Election will be held on 2nd July 2016.
Climate Institute scorecard: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/verve/_resources/TCI-CPCA-Election-2016.pdf
ACF scorecard: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/auscon/pages/471/attachments/original/1465519001/ACF_election_scorecard.pdf?1465519001
WWF scorecard: http://scorecard.wwf.org.au
Environment Victoria scorecard: http://environmentvictoria.org.au/election2016/scorecard
Fight for the Reef scorecard: https://fightforthereef.org.au/reef-election-policies-dont-go-far-enough/
ARRCC scorecard: http://www.arrcc.org.au/arrcc_scorecard_2016_election