As US faces climate setbacks, Australia plows ahead on reform
With President Biden’s climate agenda largely on ice amid Senate opposition, the focus has shifted to what other global leaders are doing to combat climate change.
Australia, which leads the world in per capita emissions from coal power, is vowing aggressive action to reduce emissions and curb global warming.
Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s minister for the environment and water, pledged Tuesday to push for “a fundamental reform” of the country’s environmental laws.
And at a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has seen its powers recently limited by the Supreme Court, Australia’s leaders are pushing to bolster their own environmental regulator.
“Without structural change we’ll be resigning ourselves to another decade of failure, without the tools we need to arrest our decline,” Plibersek said at the National Press Club of Australia.
She spoke following the release of the country’s 2021 State of the Environment report, which details major effects of climate change on the continent and its species.
Australian leaders unveiled their latest report at a time when the global push to address climate change has faced hurdles amid major setbacks in the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court also restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit power plant emissions.
And while sources indicated that Biden could move to declare a climate emergency as soon as Wednesday, the president’s agenda is still largely held up amid a lack of support in the Senate.
In Australia, by comparison, the country’s environmental minister has signaled a strong appetite for climate reforms, including “empowering a new environmental protection agency.”
Since center-left Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese replaced conservative Scott Morrison as prime minister in May, the country has already taken several steps to shift its climate policies.
Albanese recently pledged to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, departing from his predecessor’s commitment of 26 to 28 percent.
Plibersek accused the previous administration of keeping the new environmental report hidden for the past six months, stressing that its findings push Australians to “take a good, hard look at ourselves.”
Responding to her criticism, opposition lawmaker Jonathon Duniam told CNN that Plibersek was using the report as a tool to attack the Morrison administration, which he said spent billions of dollars on green initiatives.
“While it’s a confronting read, Australians deserve the truth,” Plibersek maintained of the new report. “We deserve to know that Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent.”
Not only has Australia lost the most mammal species, but it also has one of the highest rates of species decline among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the report.
Among the report’s other findings were indications that “the trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating” due to increased pressures from climate change.
The report also revealed that the number of threatened species in the country has increased by an average of 8 percent across all taxonomic groups over the past five years.
Marine heat waves have led to mass coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, while the country’s coasts are experiencing “a plague of marine plastics,” Plibersek said.
“Individually, every one of these revelations is dreadful, but it’s only when you think about the cumulative impact that you begin to get the full picture of environmental decline,” she said.
Plibersek pledged to develop new environmental legislation for 2023 and “consult thoroughly on environmental audits.”
The environmental minister also announced that her office would be setting a goal of protecting 30 percent of Australia’s land and 30 percent of its oceans by 2030.
This commitment is similar to a pledge made by the Biden administration last year and is in line with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s global biodiversity framework, which calls for conserving 30 percent of global land and sea areas by 2030.
“We need to protect our environment and heritage for the future. We need to restore environments that have already been damaged,” Plibersek said.
“And we need to actively manage our landscapes, oceans and waterways and the critical places that we’re bound to protect so they don’t become rundown through neglect,” she added.