What’s Next on Australia’s Ecology Agenda?

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The recently held federal elections in Australia have caused heated debates regarding the environment – with a particular focus on the country’s climate change policy. The strategy, devised by the Liberal-National Coalition Party as far back as 2010, is likely to undergo some significant changes. Some of them have already been announced: the newly appointed government is going to slash the solar panel rebate by cutting it down to half its current value (to $500 from $1,000). However, other pressing matters are still on the agenda, the most visible of which is carbon price. It is likely that Tony Abbott’s cabinet is going to attempt to negotiate with the crossbenchers on the matter, or even press for a special electoral poll on the matter.

Doing away with the carbon tax has been on Tony Abbott’s party agenda for a long time now. The leader of the Coalition Party first expressed this view back at the end of 2009, when he first became the ruling figure behind Australia’s opposition forces. Eliminating the carbon tax means removing the current mechanism which governs the pricing of carbon, which also includes the trading of emissions. Now, the issue in this respect, from an environmental point of view, is that doing away with the carbon tax might not make that much sense, in the wider context of Australia’s climate strategy. Nor is such a move expected to receive backing from the Labor party, or from the Greens. This means the initiative to repeal the carbon price is not going pass Senate, where Labor and the Greens hold the majority until July 2014. In this situation, the Coalition would have to find the support of the conservatives and other minor parties, which make up the crossbenchers. For the time being it seems that this otherwise pressing environmental issue has been reduced to a strictly political negotiation.

Some analysts, however, also foresee a different scenario for the carbon tax. Once the heat of the election cools down, the debate is likely to be resumed in more rational, ecologically-minded terms. This means that Australia is going to have to pay attention to the way the issue of carbon emissions is handled elsewhere around the world: in Europe, with its low carbon prices, California, and China, which has only recently started to implement emission trading schemes. It will also become a matter of seeing other alternative environmental policies through at home for Australia. For instance, the Coalition has devised a policy for reducing emissions, but it looks like it will cost more money than initially planned to lower Australia’s current emissions threshold by as little as 5 per cent.

Meanwhile, public attention is also focused on other environmental issues, such as current agricultural practices. A Sydney-based conference on the tie between agriculture and preventing global warming is also receiving coverage in the media. The conference has brought together scientists in the field of agriculture who hail from over sixty different countries. One view expressed at the conference is that the phenomenon of global warming is bound to create massive droughts, which, in turn, would render the soil infertile by creating drought ‘hotspots’. The parts of the world most likely to be among the first ones affected include Asia, Africa, and Australia. Reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is also a top concern, as is a smaller such footprint among homeowners down under. It is just as important to understand that a simple measure like folding rotary clothes lines can eliminate the need for clothes dryers at home – as it is to understand the need for new technologies, which would help feed the Earth’s population of humans and livestock.


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