Coalition’s climate warriors: party insiders work to sway MPs to take action
Australian politics has been standing at a smoky crossroad on climate change for far too long.
Domestically, the lack of political will to deal with the effects of climate change pose a clear and present danger as we see Sydney shrouded in smoke.
Internationally, Australia ranked worst out of 57 countries on climate change policy, according to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, and Australia is the 14th largest emitter of 196 parties in the Paris Agreement, a record of which no Australian can be proud.
Recent research by the ABC found more than 80 per cent of Australians wanted the government to take more action on climate change, including 60 per cent of Coalition voters. I have seen this first-hand as the chair of Coalition for Conservation – C4C – a fast-growing movement of mainstream Coalition members who support greater action to address climate change and other environmental challenges.
We work closely with the Liberal and National parties, engaging, persuading and shifting the conservative side of politics to move forward with positive action. Some of our ambassadors are former NSW premier and current Liberal Party president Nick Greiner, former federal Liberal environment minister Robert Hill, and former Liberal immigration minister Philip Ruddock. We have gained momentum since the federal election in May, with hundreds of new supporters joining to be part of a more constructive conversation within our Liberal and National parties.
About 200 years ago Edmund Burke cautioned against giving into political apathy. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Fortunately, the political cycle of apathy has been broken by the NSW government under the leadership of its Environment Minister Matt Kean, who has acknowledged the well-established science linking climate change to worsening fire conditions. Like Kean, a large portion of Coalition politicians understand the climate science and its implications, so the news that NSW will adopt more ambitious emission-reduction targets was probably less of a surprise for Coalition members than many other Australians.
The challenge we are posed with is how to shift those Coalition members who are held back by vocal, organised elements who oppose real action to reduce emissions. The argument should lie on the economic benefits of an orderly transition from fossil fuels to renewables, in line with Kean’s plans. His revised goal of lowering greenhouse gases by 35 per cent by 2030 puts NSW ahead of Labor-led Queensland, and on track to achieve net zero by 2050.
The announcement also signals the state government’s increasing awareness of the opportunity to create new jobs and more economic growth in the low-carbon industries that economists point to as the basis of our future prosperity.
Last week I spoke at the Smart Energy Summit at the Hilton Hotel. Other speakers included software entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. The room was packed with representatives from the world of business and finance who were there to discuss the huge growth in clean energy industries and the vast economic opportunity facing Australia if we get the right policy settings in place, as it is now significantly cheaper to build new renewable energy than any other form of energy generation.
Australia has always been an energy exporter and it has the potential to export renewable energy, diversifying its risks. There are plenty of projects that will help develop Australia towards achieving this goal without government funding or involvement, such as the Asian Renewable Hub and Sun Cable which are privately funded and well under way.
The Liberal Party has always been known as the party of business and its progressive leaders are seeing these opportunities and are ready to capitalise on them. No Liberal will want to be responsible for preventing Australia from seizing the next big economic opportunity.
Equally, it is no longer tenable for factions within the party to dismiss climate change as a left-wing issue for the simple fact it is not – it is a scientific fact and will have grave impact on Australia’s economy, national security
and food production if we do not act now to mitigate the worst impacts.
Our conservative counterparts in Britain understand this and are leading the way on constructive climate policy. Britain’s electricity emissions have halved since 2010 as coal burning has fallen to near zero.
There is no doubt: our climate and global energy systems are changing. This is the moment in history where the Coalition, in government, can make the most impact. To all our leaders within the Coalition who have not yet taken a stand, now is the time.
Cristina Talacko is the chair of the Coalition for Conservation.