Published by leading US climate blog, It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Dissatisfied with the policies of both major political parties, the Australian climate movement are attempting to make climate change a key issue in the final days of the 2010 federal election. A coalition of leading progressive and environmental organisations will hold Walk Against Warming demonstrations in the nation’s capital cities at the weekend. ‘By coming together one week before the election,’ says event organiser Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, ‘the community has a real opportunity to put climate change back on the election agenda, and push our leaders to put policies on the table that will actually cut emissions.’

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition is running its own initiatives to get climate change on the agenda. The youth-run organisation will hold the final of three Power Shift conferences this weekend. In an effort to influence the election, each of the conferences were located in areas that ‘represent crucial senate races and marginal seats in the Federal Election,’ according to AYCC spokesperson Lucy Manne. ‘Young people will make up 20 per cent of the voting population this election,’ Manne explains, ‘and the Power Shift conferences will ensure that the issues they care about will be heard.’

Climate change has been a hot-button issue in 2010. In April, the Labor government announced it would defer its key climate change policy, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, to 2013. The CPRS legislation would have established a domestic emissions-trading scheme and a price on carbon with the aim of achieving a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. The decision to defer the CPRS coincided with a decline in public support for then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and resulted in a successful leadership challenge from Deputy PM Julia Gillard.

Prior to calling a national election, new leader Julia Gillard pledged to ‘reprosecute the case’ for emissions trading. Labor has since committed to a scaled-down climate policy agenda. In lieu of an emissions trading scheme, a re-elected Labor government will invest $1 billion in smart grid infrastructure, provide subsidies for more fuel-efficient vehicles in a ‘cash for clunkers’ program, and establish a ‘citizens assembly’ to determine ‘community consensus’ on climate policy.

The political opposition, the Liberal/National coalition, is committed to a 5 per cent carbon reduction target but rule out carbon-pricing measures. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has branded carbon pricing ‘a great big tax’ and has proposed direct action measures as an alternative approach. A Coalition government would invest $3.4 billion over four years in an Emissions Reduction Fund. The fund would provide grants for companies to reduce carbon emissions, a ‘green army’ of volunteers to plant 20 million trees, and seed funding for three Clean Energy Hubs.

The AYCC and Walk Against Warming organisers argue that both Labor and the Coalition have inadequate climate policies. ‘Unfortunately neither of the major parties are offering credible climate policies,’ says the AYCC’s Lucy Manne. ‘Neither have committed to putting a price-tag on pollution, or announced sufficient investment in clean energy.’

McKenzie-McHarg adds that ‘both major parties have fallen way behind the electorate on the issue of climate change. The Rudd/Gillard government promised action back in 2007 and has failed to deliver. The Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott doesn’t even believe in climate change.’

The national day of action is a worthy attempt to put the spotlight on climate change in the 2010 election, but is unlikely to translate into new election commitments. According to polling, climate change is a low priority for voters in 2010. An Essential Research poll (PDF 1.51MB) undertaken early in the campaign revealed that “addressing climate change” was a priority for just 12 per cent of voters – ranking ninth out of 15 possible issues. The level of support was dramatically less than that received by the top three priority issues: economic management (63 per cent); health care (55 per cent); and protecting jobs and industries (24 per cent). A more recent poll conducted for the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia found climate change would influence voting intentions for 78 per cent of voters (sample of 2200), but the high figure presents climate change in isolation from other issues and may overestimate the electoral impact of the issue.

While the future of domestic climate policy rests on which party is elected to govern Australia, it also depends on the composition of the senate. There is a real possibility that the Australian Greens will gain the balance of power in the senate. Such a development will have implications for climate policy as The Greens support much stronger climate change measures than either of the two major parties. A balance of power role will give the Greens leverage to influence government policy.

The direction of national climate policy will be known with the result of the August 21 poll.

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