Taking the measure of party climate policies

The Climate Institute's Pollute-o-meter seeks to discover where exactly the political players stand on climate policy. And for the main, it doesn't look too good.

During the last two federal election campaigns, The Climate Institute has conducted a Pollute-o-meter analysis both of the policies of significant parties but also of modelled potential greenhouse gas emission reductions or abatement from major parties policies.

Our focus in prior years has been on two fronts.  One that tests how we are helping global efforts to tackle climate change, but also how we are improving our carbon competitiveness by boosting investments in clean energy and low carbon solutions.  In all of these election exercises we have sought, and in most instances had, dialogue with parties involved in that analysis at interim and final stages.

At the last 2010 election the results were mixed.  Neither of the major parties’ policies were remotely passable, with the ALP's stronger investment in international solutions helping it to one and a half stars to the Coalition's half a star out of a potential five stars.  Our pollute-o-meter abatement analysis, however, had the Coalition better than the ALP but both had increases in pollution, not decreases.  The Coalition had an eight per cent increase by 2020 but the ALP, and its poorly defined policies, had a 19 per cent increase in pollution.

This year we have added a third area of focus, preparing for climate impacts. 

We did this because we recognise, as do the majority of Australians, that climate change is impacting Australia and elsewhere now.  Climate change is no longer a future issue. 

Superstorm Sandy seems to have had as big an impact on public attitudes as our recent floods, droughts and fires. Nevertheless over 57 per cent of respondents in our recently released Climate of the Nation 2013 public opinion research agreed climate change is impacting Australia now.  

The rising human and economic costs of extreme weather events that have occurred with just under one degree of average global warming above pre-industrial levels heightens our National Climate Interest in working with others, like the US and China that have agreed the world needs to avoid two degrees warming.  While we work for that national climate interest, we need to prepare both for the impacts of two degrees warming but also four degrees warming which we are heading to on current action and commitments.  We need a framework of action and disclosure considering the climate, economic and social risks of those two warming scenarios for Australia.

This is a substantial new test but important. We cannot continue to walk backwards into the 21st century just looking at historical data for our health, investment, infrastructure and disaster planning.  This is a test that neither of the major parties are yet to rise to and one of the reasons for their poor scores in this year's interim assessment of parties policies

So on our interim scores of the parties achieve the following:

-- The ALP:  just passes with 2.5 stars but should do more in preparing for climate impacts but also have a greater focus on energy productivity and efficiency, amongst other areas;

-- The Coalition:  1 out of 5 stars because it is generating significant long term uncertainty ABOUT key details of its plans, around its Emissions Reduction Fund as well as renewable energy targets, compounding deficiencies in adaption and energy efficiency.

-- The Greens: score for the first time a comprehensive 5 out of 5, in which we welcome recent additions on climate risk disclosure.  Theirs is a significant and comprehensive policy but their pragmatism in applying these principles look likely to be tested again after this election. It is to be hoped that the former more pragmatic 2011 approach prevails rather than the 2008/09 approach which witnessed the end of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme..

-- Both Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon accept the reality of climate change but have significant gaps in their policy platform.  Nick Xenophon's failure to support an absolute cap on emissions and his preferred carbon pricing model, his curious attacks on renewable energy, and policy gaps elsewhere, leave him with just .5 star out of 5 compared with Andrew Wilkie's 1.5 stars out of 5.

-- Bob Katter's Australia Party and the Democratic Labour Party are dismissive of climate change, its impacts and its opportunities and for this reason both score 0 stars.

All these details and more on each of the parties’ policies are available at our specialist website for this www.2013pollute-o-meter.org.au

We intend to update the assessment of policies in the closing days of the election but plan to next month release our pollute-o-meter abatement analysis of the comparative potential achievements of both the ALP and the Coalition.

With so many twists, turns, dives and climbs as there has been in Australia's carbon political roller coaster, all parties and independents take a massive gamble by ignoring climate change, its realities, risks and opportunities. 

This was brought home in our latest Climate of the Nation, which saw climate attitudes emerging from the shadows of the 'carbon tax' and saw a rebounding appetite for ambition and international leadership. 

Leadership and ambition will be vital as we head into critical international climate negotiations in 2014 and 2015, but also as plummeting technology costs and alternatives threaten existing business models and assumptions that we can continue to operate in the 21st century as we did in the 20th.  As our recent work on Australia's Unburnable Carbon has shown, much of those assumptions rest on a speculative bubble of climate denial, indifference or dreaming.

John Connor is CEO of The Climate Institute. This is an edited extract of comments made at the launch of interim Pollute-o-meter results July 19 2013.

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