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CANBERRA, Australia. Throughout my time in Australia, climate change policy has stymied governments, leading to division, inaction and confusion, most recently when the country became a global underperformer at last year’s international climate conference in Copenhagen.
That could now change when the lower house of parliament passes a bill this week that will finally put Australia on a path to significant carbon reductions of 43% from 2005 levels by 2030.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate next month after the Labor government garnered reluctant support from Australian Greens who pushed for a higher goal. And it is hailed as the most significant climate legislation in a decade, and also criticized for not going far enough.
Of course, both could be true, and in my conversations this week with experts in both climate science and climate policy, I was struck by their expectation that the legislation would generate momentum and progress.
The first thing they noted was that the target itself provides the basis for stability and forced action; enshrining a 43 percent cut in law gives businesses and local governments the confidence to invest in reducing carbon emissions without worrying that competitors seeking to avoid such spending will later be rewarded by another government that does not consider these changes. necessary.
The second piece of legislation that I’ve heard a lot about is a mechanism for independent evaluation and improvement of this first step.
As noted by the Climate Council in his analysis legislation:
It returns authority to an independent panel of experts (Office of Climate Change) to track Australia’s progress towards the goals and help shape progress towards future goals, including what is expected under the 2035 Paris Agreement.
Under the new law, the Minister for Climate Change will be required to report annually to Parliament on Australia’s progress towards the country’s goals.
These two elements force Australia to continue the conversation, which is led by scientific experts. This is what good governance experts often call for in contentious political issues, and it helps counter what psychologists who study humanity’s response to risks of all kinds call the “one-action bias.”
Elke Weber, professor of psychology at Princeton University, whom I interviewed for my book (which was published in Australia and will be released next year in the United States), described the concept as a major impediment to sustainable action to address major issues such as climate change. Idea is that in response to uncertain, frightening situations, people tend to simplify their decision making and rely on one action without any further action—usually because the former has reduced their feelings of anxiety or vulnerability.
What makes the climate bill so interesting to me, as a risk researcher, is that it lays in its structure the foundation for further action and the trigger that can make that action continue and evolve over time. It sets repetitive actions and default settings.
Many other pieces of legislation also do this in Australia and other countries. The United States is also on the verge of passing landmark climate legislation that will help the country meet its goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030, largely through tax credits and other incentives that will gain momentum over time. But Australia, after years of politicized climate wars, seems to have found a model that recognizes that more will need to be done.
This is not so much a decision as a belated start of a major transition that the whole world is in no hurry to embark on.
“This climate bill will not be enough to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, but it is a huge step forward and opens a new era of cooperation and constructive policies,” said Richie Mercian, climate and energy program director at the Australian Institute. “There is still a lot of work to be done to reshape Australia’s role as the third largest exporter of fossil fuels, but there is hope and momentum that things are finally starting to change.”
And now our stories of the week.
Australia and New Zealand