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The Climate Change Debate: Where Is Australia Headed to?

What do the people want?

For Australia’s formerly ruling Labor Party, the debate on climate change got off on the wrong foot. The Gillard government sought to impose a carbon pricing scheme which the world saluted, but which threatened to take a toll on the country’s economic stability. This came at a time when Australia was reeling in the aftermath of the recession, and when big business profitability seemed essential for stabilizing the labor market. The then opposition Coalition claimed that the carbon tax would further destabilize the economy and did all it could to convince public opinion of the reality of their claims.

Since the public seemed to take them up on their view, Labor went ahead and created the Climate Commission, whose role was to explain scientific findings on climate change. Through a tour of the country and conferences on climate change, the commission’s experts managed to convince a large part of the population of the truths they were postulating. They also found that the green lifestyle was already appealing to many Australians, who were opting for solar panels, relinquishing their tumble dryers in favor of eco-friendly Hills clotheslines, and choosing hybrid or electric cars instead of vehicles that run on fossil fuels. With this newfound support, the commission hoped to further Australia’s policy on climate change. However, the situation changed soon after the election.

Reactions at home

When the Coalition came to power, Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided to enact his previously announced intentions of repealing the carbon tax. As of the writing of this article the future of the bill remains to be determined, but numerous voices in the media have emerged, pointing to the massive carbon footprints of various businesses across the country and the need to lower them. At the same time, the debate was further fueled by the upcoming Alpha Coal Project, as well as other mining initiatives. The Alpha Coal Project, approved in August 2012, will see to the construction of a large coal mine in the Galilee Basin, in Queensland. The project is overseen by Gina Rinehart, the richest person in Australia – as well as a climate change denier. Rinehart struck a deal with Indian group GVK for $1.2 billion. Together with a second mega-mine set to be built in the area, it will produce 3.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year, which is far more than many developed countries in the Western world. The project has been severely criticized in Australia, especially within the context of the carbon pricing scheme repeal.

Reactions from abroad

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Interestingly enough, although the GVK group of companies hails from India, one of the most vocal opponents to Australia’s back-flip on climate change policies also comes from India. Dr. Prodipto Ghosh is one of India’s most outspoken and revered climate change scientists, as well as the force behind the country’s climate change action plan. Ghosh has expressed his disappointment in climate change policies at governmental level in Australia. He added that he would be watching the debates regarding the reforms and hopes that Australia would come around by understanding how the changes would negatively impact the country. In Ghosh’s view, since Australia is highly dependent on its natural resources, it needs to pull its weight in sharing the responsibility of taking action against climate change. Ghosh also made it his point to praise Australia for the numerous clean energy technologies it helped develop – such as systems that generate concentrated solar energy. The scientist expressed his hope that, in the future, India and Australia could collaborate closer in developing these technologies together. In the meantime, India is targeting big polluters through its climate change strategies – much like Australia should do, too.

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