Labor’s climate cowardice shows need for stronger movement

Labor is moving away from action on climate change, stepping up its support for the fossil fuel industry. The party is attempting a “small target” strategy, positioning itself as more supportive of climate action than Scott Morrison, while telling fossil fuel workers that major changes are decades away. Just like their approach at the last election, this risks pleasing nobody.

The party’s Resources spokesperson Madeleine King has said she is “absolutely not supportive one bit” of calls for a moratorium on new coal mines, adding, “For so long as international markets want to buy Australian coal… then they will be able to.” She even voiced support for coal exports continuing beyond 2050, despite the call for net zero emissions by then.

On the other hand, Climate spokesperson Chris Bowen says there are “economic opportunities” and new jobs in climate action—including in existing coal dependent regions.

But while he claims a Labor government would “ensure workers don’t get left behind” he is relying on big business and the free market to fund the climate transition. The only commitments to government funding from Labor are for a vague manufacturing plan and electricity transmission wires.

Bowen has condemned Scott Morrison’s talk of a “gas-fired recovery”, saying, “It’s simply a fraud,” that won’t actually create jobs. But at the same time he backs the ongoing role of gas in the energy system, despite evidence it is not needed, saying, “Gas will continue to play a role in firming and peaking our grid”.

Labor is still terrified of losing votes among coal workers in Queensland and NSW’s Hunter Valley, after Scott Morrison used the Adani coal mine at the last election to swing votes. But instead of outlining plans for government spending to ensure workers are looked after during the transition, it is pretending nothing needs to change.

But the need for climate action is increasingly urgent. A new report from the Climate Council has sounded the alarm, arguing that keeping global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees is now “virtually impossible”. Even a target of 2 degrees, beyond that considered safe by many, means Australia needs to get to net zero emissions by 2035, it said.

This shows why we need a much stronger climate movement, demanding serious government investment—and a plan to ensure workers’ jobs and wages are protected.

By James Supple

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