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Australia needs its own Green New Deal

  • 11 February 2019


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.

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