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Australia needs its own Green New Deal



If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is correct, the world only has 12 years to limit catastrophic climate change. As a country highly vulnerable to climate change, Australia needs to act. A summer of record breaking heatwaves, raging bushfires across Tasmania and devastating floods in Queensland gives us a glimpse of the future.

US Democratic lawmakers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey unveil their Green New Deal Resolution (Alex Wong/Getty Images)On our current trajectory, Australia will struggle to meet its own Paris Agreement target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 level emissions by 2030 but even that may be insufficient. The Climate Change Authority recommended a 45-65 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030 below 2005 levels, based on scientific evidence.

Nearly a decade of inaction means we cannot rely solely on a carbon price to drive the deep decarbonisation needed. It will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and industrial systems.

Globally there is recognition that past inaction and the urgency to act demands an ambitious intervention. In America, a Green New Deal has become a litmus test for action on climate change. It harks back to a World War II style mobilisation to tackle climate change while also fighting economic inequality.

Pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the space of only a few months, the concept of a Green New Deal has gained support across the field of Democratic contenders for President including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

The drastic change Australia need calls for our own Green New Deal but we should draw on our own historical experience rather than simply copying rhetoric from America. Australia has experienced a transformation on the scale that is needed, that of post-war reconstruction during the 1940s.

Post-war reconstruction was shaped by the 1941 Atlantic Charter where the Allies committed to a post-war order that would have 'a better future for the world' where there would be 'freedom from fear and want'. The Commonwealth oversaw the transition to a peacetime economy, planning and coordinating the transition. The role of the Commonwealth transformed as it assumed a wider range of responsibilities, expanding social security, working with the states to provide healthcare and housing, and focusing on full employment. Post-war reconstruction fundamentally shaped the Australia we live in today.


"Action on climate change cannot be separated from the health of our democracy."


To achieve deep decarbonisation, it must be an overarching mission of the Commonwealth. Economist Marianna Mazzucato has argued that mission thinking can steer innovation to solve challenges such as climate change, increasing both public and private investment and encouraging collaboration.

There is a parallel between post-war reconstruction and a mission of deep decarbonisation. The scale of the challenge we face requires a greater role for the Commonwealth, working with other tiers of government, the private sector and civil society. We need to significantly improve energy efficiency, build a nearly carbon free energy system, reduce emissions from agriculture and transport and change how we use land. It requires co-investment in innovation, skills and infrastructure but also encouraging less carbon intensive activities by reorienting work towards renewal and stewardship, such as by creating more caring roles and reducing working hours.

If we are serious, action on climate change will require a transformation on par with the transition to a peacetime economy. But the challenge we face is not solely environmental.

Action on climate change cannot be separated from the health of our democracy. Social researcher Rebecca Huntley has pointed out the environment has almost become a proxy for leadership at a federal level.

Dissatisfaction with democracy and mistrust is at an all-time high. A Democracy 2025 report on trust and democracy found that fewer than 41 per cent of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, down from 86 per cent in 2007.

Disillusionment with democracy fuels the growth of reactionary illiberalism that has undermined action on climate change. Not only have we seen the election of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro but at home, similar forces within the Coalition have tried to stop action on climate change.

Just as the focus of post-war reconstruction was not merely demobilisation but the maintenance of full employment, developing social security and economic development, decarbonising Australia must involve rebuilding faith that politics can deliver a better Australia.

We need to ensure that our response leads to a good society and a life that people want to live — that means good, secure jobs in new globally competitive industries across the country, more educational opportunities and a better quality of life.

The public supports action on climate change but if we want support for the scale of change needed, the offer needs to be much more than simply one of risk mitigation. The idea that responding to climate change means a life of misery is nihilistic and will doom action. It must mean a better and fairer future for us.



Osmond ChiuOsmond Chiu is Secretary of the NSW Fabians. He tweets @redrabbleroz

Main image: US Democratic lawmakers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey unveil their Green New Deal Resolution (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Osmond Chiu, climate change, Paris Agreement



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Existing comments

The bushfires ravaging the unique landscape in Tasmania and the floods devastating communities in far north Queensland highlight the impact of climate change on peoples' day to day lives. Can we live without the treasure of the Tasmanian wilderness? I think not. Can communities bounce back after their lives are ripped apart? They can, but at a great personal cost. Those are the reasons why each of us has to think carefully about voting for candidates in elections. Do they present the same old tired arguments about 'jobs' and 'the economy'? Or something new and fresh?

Pam | 10 February 2019  

Australia's contribution to global warming/climate change through Co2 discharged into the local Australian environment is miniscule. However, Australia, through its coal exports to places like India and China, is one of the worlds greatest contributors to Co2 emissions around the globe. What we do locally will not achieve anything globally while we continue to export coal to the greatest industrialised polluters in the world. If Australia abolishes all coal-fired generators and converts to clean energy that would have no effect whatever on the global environment in the face of continued coal burning elsewhere. If we were genuine we would demand a stop to the mining and export of coal in addition to our local efforts to shift to clean energy. T'ain't going to happen without the USA, India and China on board. Human greed will simply not allow it. Similarly, exclusion of fossil fuels in favour of electric transportation ain't going to happen either. The USA and Arab States will never allow that!

john frawley | 10 February 2019  

Thanks Osmond Chiu for presenting the Green New Deal as a way forward. We certainly need it, urgently. The dismal failure of major parties in this country to respond adequately to the crisis of climate change has left many voters heading for other options. I hope that people will carefully assess the policies of the Australian Greens in this context - based on participatory democracy, peace and nonviolence, stewardship of the environment and social justice. It's a brilliant package, and there are ten people already in Federal Parliament working to that strong agenda of creating a society for the future.

jo vallentine | 10 February 2019  

Thanks Osmond for an excellent and very timely article! Most Australians now want action on climate change. Keyrn Phelps recently won a by-election largely or party on this issue. Tony Abbot, who once promoted the view that climate change is crap, in now trailing an independent candidate in the polls. Recent extreme weather events are a sign of what's to come if we keep burning or exporting fossil fuels. The Great Barrier Reef supports about 70 000 jobs, but most of these will go as the Reef dies. Who wants to see a pile of coral rubble covered in green algae? The Greens are the only party I know that are really serious about climate action. Seriously consider voting GREEN, unless Labor start getting serious about climate action. Supporting the Adani mine suggests Labor are not very serious at this time!

Grant Allen | 10 February 2019  

oz is not a democracy. that's why ozzian 'democracy' doesn't work.

alfred loomis | 11 February 2019  

I have just completed an analysis of extreme summer season maximum temperature events in Canberra using data going back to 1939. The last two summers; 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 stand out clearly in the record , along with 2013/ 2014 as Summers in which we experienced multiple days exceeding 40 degrees. Indeed January 2019 with 5 days over 40 degrees eclipses all previous years for extreme heat. Remember that Canberra is 610 metres above sea level! As others have commented, we are seeing catastrophic floods in North Queensland while Tasmania's cool temperate rainforest burns Worldwide, fires, heatwaves, drought and flood and devastating Tropical Cyclones are affecting millions of people-mostly in poor countries, who lack the resources to cope. Osmond, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. While we contribute little domestic CO 2 emissions as a country, our export of coal is a crime against humanity as we are destroying the very environment we depend on to live. As a retired 70 year old, sadly, I am not confident that we can avert a monumental disaster for our children and grandchildren.

Gavin O'Brien | 11 February 2019  

Dear Osmond, It is great to see such idealism alive in young Australians. But you cannot save the world on wishful thinking. Which is why in this populist era, where "feelings" trump hard analysis, governments become so unpopular when they have to make hard decisions in the real world based on uncomfortable evidence and truths. John Frawley is quite right about the futility of what you would like Australia to do internally, which would be at huge community cost for literally no gain to anyone anywhere. Our "coal issue" is tougher and more subtly complex. At Dr Marty Rice`s request I will edit what I wrote last weekend in ES: coal is currently the only feasible energy means by which poor countries are going to improve the desperate energy poverty of billions of their people; Australia is blest with some of the "cleanest" low emission coal in the world, and using our coal rather than the dirtier and costlier available alternatives will reduce emissions from what they would be in India and China by 30%, or even more with newer cleaner coal burning technology (which we should also be adopting in OZ). Those opposing for example Adani, are not just misguided but are being cruel and discriminatory at an epic level. We don`t have the ideal technology we need (short perhaps of widespread nuclear) to currently to sort this out, so a very different approach is needed which has to be new-technology-research-based eg spending big to develop carbon capture or local small nuclear modules, or something not yet known. Coal exports of course are also a major source of our national wealth and very many well paid jobs; even so, from my comfortable and guaranteed state-funded position (of course) I would still be prepare to sacrifice the financial wellbeing of my less fortunate fellow citizens, and stop our coal production, if it could do any good, but there is just no chance that it will I`m afraid. Such is life.

Eugene | 11 February 2019  

Eugene, eloquent and perceptive comment, as always. I say that as a baptized, confirmed and ordained "denier" (trans.: someone who believes that the warming since the end of the LIA in the 19th c is largely natural, and that whatever human-induced element exists doesn't presage catastrophic anthropogenic warming in the future via unproven 'tipping' effects ... moreover, that CO2 increases have increased global greening by huge amounts in recent decades from close to disastrously low levels in terms of the history of life on earth, to the benefit of the earth and its human inhabitants. But which Greens care about that?)

HH | 11 February 2019  

Reduced carbon emissions can be achieved by replacing Coal fired turbines with the scale able Direct fuel cell (prototype at Qld Uni) and storing CO2 in salt caverns underground. CO2 emissions from the DFC are 2%. The Surat has coal to power the worlds needs for another 2000 years. Good coking coal. Plant 10m trees along the Darling basin. Divert a chanel from the Burdekin, Ross, Palmer and Mitchell rivers to the Darling (a simple 2100 km engineering project) so all that flood water doesnt just wash to the sea. Run it beside the Mitchell Highway. The technology exists. The will for change does not. Neither major party can keep a stable leader at the helm for a single term.

Francis Armstrong | 11 February 2019  

While meeting or exceeding its Paris CO2 emissions target, do you really think we are that stupid as a nation to reduce our economy (that's living standards) by excluding coal when man-made CO2 emissions account for 3% of the entire global CO2 in the atmosphere. Go Figure!!

Paul Tallentire | 11 February 2019  

True, Paul Tallentire. The best thing we could do worldwide would be to plant trees to replace the Earth's lungs we have chopped down for various commercial interests. Every tree is sculptured from carbon and in the process of accumulating carbon releases the oxygen on which human life depends - we are killing ourselves when we clear the land of trees. I recall Bob Hawke urging Australians to plant a billion trees over a couple of years back in the 80s. I wonder why we didn't do it.

john frawley | 12 February 2019  

Thanks John Frawley, I very much agree with you yet again in terms of the need for better/more tree planting strategies. Young trees especially take up a great deal of CO2 as you suggest. One of our tragedies in Australia is lack of sensible and robust forest management: instead of taking out a certain percentage of older trees each year and investing them in beautiful things (such as furniture and homes...and stored carbon), and cutting back the undergrowth to allow new trees to come through, we have been forced to leave them in a "pristine" wild condition so that they inevitably burn down. I was in Hobart a week ago in all the smoke and with frightened people, and was told that Tassie had lost almost 3% of its trees in the current fires, with huge acute release of CO2 into the atmosphere. What waste! Yet again a fake Green ideal (ideology) leading to predictable tragedy.

Eugene | 12 February 2019  

Hi dear Dr John Frawley: "I wonder why we didn't do it." My humble experience is through sheer, mindless skulduggery. The evergreen NEEM tree is the ideal tree for revegetating the vast areas of hot/arid northern Australia, such as those deforested in WWII and then for mine timbering. The neem-tree has multiple uses and is highly commercially viable. University & government scientists, and investors put in a massive amount of research time, physical labour, and all their resources, so as to import and test the best cultivars from Africa and Asia (e.g. see summary in the 1993 book: 'Pest Control and Sustainable Agriculture' edited by S. A. Corey et al.; CSIRO, Canberra). This beneficial pro-human and pro-ecology project was torpedoed by rivals and incompetents, urged by highly-influential importers of chemical pesticides who were (and still are) afraid of the potential of locally-produced neem-based organic insecticides and termite-proof timbers. Surely it's obvious: that with heavyweight commerce over-ruling science and public interest we will irresistibly continue to 'progress' towards global annihilation? Hi dear Eugene: on the same topic of commercial skulduggery this expert article is worth a read: https://cosmosmagazine.com/climate/the-most-villainous-act-in-the-history-of-human-civilisation-tyler-prize-winner-michael-e-mann-speaks-out Whadya think? Blessings from Marty.

Dr Marty Rice | 13 February 2019  

Australia needs its own Green New Deal, with mission thinking to address our peculiar problems, limited to popular actions because of the politics, and devised by experts similar to the UK Green New Deal Group. The problems to be addressed are carbon emissions, droughts, bushfires, floods, under-employment, health and inequality. It would probably include Keynesian economics, government expenditure on proven green investments, located where there was the greatest social need, taxing global companies on local production, reduced taxes on small business, and free public education. It should shun existing party platforms because they are discredited, but rely on the science and technology. There needs to be continuing reporting and due diligence for new ideas, and I point out that there is a proven form of transport that is 6 times faster than existing PT, half the cost and it uses 10 times less energy, so is profitable. All it needs is political will and that can only come from our youth.

John Cleeland | 25 December 2019  

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