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Leaders debate misses the mark on climate

By Suzanne Harter - posted Tuesday, 31 May 2016

When Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten went head to head on Sunday night at the National Press Club, one would have expected climate to figure prominently as a point of difference between the two major parties.

The debate offered a prime opportunity to win favour with voters looking for stronger action to protect the Great barrier reef, better climate change targets and stronger laws to protect nature.

Unfortunately, what we got was a mostly unedifying display of tired party lines that failed to inspire confidence from either side.


Despite recent polling showing that climate change is one of the top four issues for voters at the upcoming election – debate showed that thus far both leaders are relegating serious action on the environment to the too hard basket.

Let's break Sunday's leaders debate down. The two candidates were asked 7 questions by 3 selected journalists. Climate change only made its way into the debate on a few occasions including in response to a final question focused on the government's climate change policy.

We might have expected Bill Shorten to jump on the opportunity to talk up the massive potential to boost the Australian economy and create new clean energy jobs through renewable energy technologies, particularly given the fact that global investment in new clean energy reached a record high of US$329 billion in 2015.

We know Australians love renewable energy because Australia has the highest uptake of solar panels in the world – with over 15 per cent of Australian homes now having solar panels on their roof.

Moreover, Labor's recently released climate policy represented an important step towards cleaning up Australia's energy sector including welcome measures to close dirty coal-fired power stations, build new clean energy, clamp down on land clearing and invest in renewable energy – but Mr Shorten seemed shy of selling these policies in the national debate.

With both major parties talking about innovation as a major part of growing our economy, how is it possible that clean technologies were not connected to that message?


Despite referring to himself in the debate as someone "who is committed to action on climate change", Mr Turnbull repeated the disingenuous lines we have been hearing from the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, that his commitment is to ensure that Australia meets the targets agreed in Paris.

Yet the pollution reduction target Mr Turnbull was referring to – 26 to 28 per cent pollution reduction by 2030 based on 2005 levels - is hopelessly inadequate and completely out of sync with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees and to pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees.

In fact, simple analysis shows that if other developed countries had similarly low ambition we would be in line for a catastrophic 3 to 4 degrees of warming.

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About the Author

Suzanne Harter is a climate campaigner for ACF.

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