3 climate takeaways from Australia’s long-overdue climate election

Australia has finally had its climate election. Here's what it all means.

Lucy Piper
May 25, 2022
Australian hundred dollar bills planted in dirt.

Australia has finally had its climate election. But what does it all mean for businesses and climate-concerned employees? WorkforClimate director Lucy Piper shares her two cents.    

It was probably 20 years overdue, but Australia finally had its political reckoning on climate this weekend, and it’s fundamentally changed the country’s political geography. Perhaps forever.

Pro-climate independents all but wiped out the Coalition’s urban strongholds, the Greens had their most successful campaign ever (and, crucially, look to hold the balance of power in the Senate), and the LNP was punished for over a decade of climate denial, obstruction, obfuscation, gaslighting, misdirection and inaction. Climate is finally on the political agenda in Australia. And it feels good.

There’s still a lot to play out, and these are very early days yet, but I think there are still some predictions we can make about what’s going to happen next.   

1.  The climate wars are over; decarbonisation is coming

When it comes to Australia’s 20-year climate wars, it might not be the beginning of the end, but it definitely feels like the end of the beginning. After two years of bushfires, droughts, once-in-a-generation floods, and nearly 20 years of toxic debate, the electorate has apparently had enough. So what does the future look like under Labor?

"Climate-ignoring CEOs, MDs and GMs aren’t going to be able to hide from the inevitable any more. Every job is a climate job, and every business is a climate business. Tick tock."

Well, Labor’s emission reduction targets – 43% by 2030 ­– are better than the Coalition’s, but still not enough to keep us under our Paris commitments, according to the latest research. Newly elected independents and the Greens are both pushing Anthony Albanese for deeper emission cuts.  Warringah independent Zali Steggall, for example, is calling for at least 60% reductions by 2030, and the Greens want even more. With a progressive majority of Greens and independents holding sway in the Senate, any new climate legislation will have to be a compromise. In other words, we’re now firmly on the path to decarbonisation, but the exact speed of the transition remains unclear.  

2.  Business can’t hide from climate responsibilities anymore

With this weekend’s election result, Australian businesses now know that our government is going to be legislating in order to achieve their net zero commitments. It’s happening, it’s real, and it’s going to mean at least 40% emissions reductions by 2030 (possibly more, if the Greens and teal independents get their way). It’s not a question of ‘if’ anymore; it’s a question of ‘when’.  

Employees are going to be critical to business transition, and they’re going to expect the same action from their companies as from their government. This isn’t about Left and Right anymore. The election proved that climate action matters to people on all sides of the political spectrum, with a swing to the Greens on the Left and teal independents on the Centre-Right.  

If your employee base lives in inner city, urban areas, they’re clearly demanding more climate action from their leaders – and that includes corporate leaders. Inaction isn’t an option anymore, and climate-ignoring CEOs, MDs and GMs aren’t going to be able to hide from the inevitable any more. Every job is a climate job, and every business is a climate business. Tick tock.

3.  Renewables can finally have their moment

In his victory speech on Saturday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared, “Together, we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower.” Labor has always been big on renewables, although they’ve copped a lot of criticism for their ho-hum emissions targets and fence-sitting when it comes to fossil fuels.  

"There will be less political punishment for companies who take a firm stand on climate, or those advocating for more ambitious emissions targets. If you haven’t already transitioned your business to 100% renewables, now’s your chance to get on the front foot."

Labor’s PoweringAustralia plan, released late last year, outlined the party’s broad energy strokes: improve the existing safeguard mechanism to target 215 of Australia’s heaviest polluters, upgrade electricity transmission infrastructure to fast-track renewables, invest in solar banks, and install 400 community batteries. These measures are projected to see renewables make up 82% of power generation in Australia by 2030 – if everything goes according to plan.

For business, this means that the time to move on renewable energy is now. Not tomorrow. There will be less political punishment for companies who take a firm stand on climate, or those advocating for more ambitious emissions targets. If you haven’t already transitioned your business to 100% renewables, now’s your chance to get on the front foot.

As Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter said on the weekend, “Australian voters have made the call for urgent climate action, and now it’s time for the new parliament to roll up its sleeves and get on with the job.” That’s good advice for all of us.

 

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