The Coalition is expected to unveil its carbon pollution reduction target for the post 2020 period today as new research shows high levels of public concern over how much action the government is taking to tackle climate change.
A survey commissioned by the Climate Institute think tank and conducted by Galaxy Research found a strong majority of Australians – at 59 per cent of respondents – believe the nation should be a world leader in finding solutions to climate change.
However, the same percentage of people believe the government is underestimating the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change, with just 16 per cent responding that the government is giving the issue enough weight.
The Climate Institute’s annual survey of voter attitudes reiterates earlier findings of Essential Research which show a high level of support for renewables, accompanied by falling support for coal and nuclear generated energy.
According to the research 71 per cent of Australians agree it’s inevitable that the nation’s current coal fired generation will need to be replaced and 72 per cent agree that the government needs a plan to ensure the closure of coal fired power stations and their replacement with clean energy is well managed.
Around 71 per cent believe that tackling climate change creates new opportunities in renewable energy and around two thirds, at 65 per cent, agreed that reducing investment in wind farms and household solar power is the opposite of what is needed.
Only 11 per cent disagreed, indicating limited support for the government’s anti-renewables agenda, which has seen efforts to reduce the Renewable Energy Target, stymie investment in the wind sector, and close a range of agencies tasked with investment and research geared at finding solutions to climate change.
While there appears to be a healthy and steadily growing appetite for greater measures to cut carbon pollution the Climate Change Institute’s Chief Executive Officer, John Connor, said the research shows that “the carbon tax spectre still has some sting”.
Over Parliament’s winter break the Labor Party unveiled the bare bones of the climate policy it will take to the next election, announcing an aspirational goal of 50 per cent renewable energy within 15 years and that it would seek to introduce a moderate emissions trading scheme if elected.
The Opposition is withholding details until the election draws nearer, but Connor said that 36 per cent of respondents agree “they won’t vote for the ALP because they will bring back the carbon tax, with 24 per cent neutral and 28 per cent disagreeing”.
The Environment Minister has been quick to exhume the government’s campaign to ‘axe the tax’ with claims that “an emissions trading scheme is just a carbon tax with a different name”.
It’s an argument that appears to retain considerable sway, with Connor commenting that “almost half of respondents, at 47 per cent, think that ALP policies will ‘just increase electricity prices and not do much about pollution’.”
However, the government is likely to come under pressure itself later today when it announces the climate change targets it will take to a crucial UN conference in Paris later this year because Australia’s current policy, known as the Emissions Reduction Fund, is unlikely to be capable of making the deep cuts needed.
With most other governments having already unveiled their targets, pressure from the international community will likely be brought to bear on the Abbott government to match the level of ambition displayed by comparable nations.
The United States has committed to cutting emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and declared an aspirational 2050 target of 80 per cent.
The Canadian government has said it will reduce its emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, while the European Union is on track to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 relative to 1990 levels.
Greg Hunt has previously dismissed suggestions from the independent Climate Change Authority of a 30 per cent cut to carbon pollution based on 2000 level emissions as too “onerous”.
Connor said that while “the ALP’s recent renewables goal and climate announcements appear to better reflect public sentiment, their policy detail, and its communication, will be important”.
According to the Climate Institute research a large majority, at 70 per cent of respondents, believe climate change is occurring and 89 per cent of those accept humans are at least partly responsible.
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