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CANBERRA, Australia — Climate change policy has plagued the government since I was in Australia, leading to division, inaction and embarrassment, most recently as the country became a global laggard at last year’s Copenhagen International Climate Conference.
Now, that is expected to change with the passage of a bill in the lower house of parliament this week that will finally put Australia on a path to slash carbon emissions – 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate next month after the Labor government received reluctant support from the Australian Greens, which had pushed to raise the target. It has been hailed as the most important climate legislation of the decade, while also being criticized for not going far enough.
Of course, both could be true, and in my conversations with climate science and climate politics experts this week, I was struck by their expectations that the legislation would generate momentum and progress.
The first thing they noticed: the target itself produced a framework for stabilization and enhanced action; the law mandating a 43% reduction gave businesses and local governments the confidence to invest in reducing carbon emissions without fear of rushing to avoid such costs. Competitors are later rewarded by another government that sees no need for changes.
The second element of legislation I often hear about is a mechanism for independent assessment and improvement of the first step.
as the climate council its analysis legislation:
It returns power to an independent panel of experts (Climate Change Authority) to monitor Australia’s progress towards the targets and help shape progress towards future targets, including the Paris Agreement expectations for 2035.
Under the new law, the climate change minister will be required to report annually to parliament on Australia’s progress towards national targets.
The role of these two factors is to force Australia to continue the dialogue, with scientific experts taking the lead. It’s the kind of thing that good governance experts often call for addressing controversial policy issues, and it helps counter what psychologists who study human responses to a variety of risks describe as “single action bias.”
Elke Weber, professor of psychology at Princeton, whom I interviewed for my book (already Published in Australia and will be launched in the U.S. next year), describing the concept as a major obstacle to sustained action on major issues such as climate change. the idea That is, in response to uncertain, dire situations, humans tend to simplify their decisions and rely on one action without taking any further action—often because the first action reduces their worry or sense of vulnerability.
As a student of risk, what makes the climate bill so interesting to me is that it builds into its structure a framework for further action, and a trigger that can force that action to continue and build over time device. It sets repeated actions and adjustments as defaults.
In Australia and other countries, many other legislations have done the same. The United States is also on the verge of passing landmark climate legislation that will help the country meet its goal of halving emissions by 2030, mostly through tax breaks and other incentives, which will build momentum over time. But after years of politicized “climate wars”, Australia appears to have found a pattern in acknowledging that more must be done.
This is not so much a solution as it is the beginning of a major shift that the whole world is overdue for.
“This climate bill is not enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but it is a huge leap forward, ushering in a new era of cooperation and constructive decision-making,” said Richie Merzian, director of the Australian Institute’s Climate and Energy Program. There is still a lot of work to be done in the role of the third largest exporter of fossil fuels, but there is hope and momentum that things are finally starting to change.”
Now here is our story of the week.