At last we have seen a good news story on the political front in Australia.
Anthony Albanese will now lead his Labor Party into the new Australian House of Representatives with a narrow but significant majority.
In the country’s upper house, the Senate, he will need the backing of the Green Party and independents to pass legislation.
This is Labor’s first time in government in nearly a decade. And it was the issue of climate change that swung it.
The public had had enough of the Liberal-National Coalition. Led by Scott Morrison, the outgoing Prime Minister who notoriously waved a huge lump of coal around the parliament chamber, the coalition weaponised the issue of climate change and it has now blown up in their faces spectacularly.
Australians were sick of being portrayed on a global stage as the climate ‘bad guys’, and more seriously than that, Australian communities now suffer directly as a result of the failure to keep emissions down — wildfires have increased, there have been prolonged droughts and extreme flooding has become more prevalent.
With all of these climate-related impacts it was little wonder, when polled, it was climate change that was the most important issue for Australian voters, and this cut across both the political Left and Right.
A network of ‘teal’ independents (named for the colour of their branding, which is between conservative blue and environmentalist green), mostly women, targeted conservative seats and won.
They were funded by the Climate 200 group, a community crowd-funded initiative that supports a scientific response to the climate crisis and advancing gender equity.
The Australian Greens also made huge gains, having their best election ever.
Another major election in terms of the global battle to stop climate change takes place in Brazil in October when Jair Bolsonaro seeks to return for a second term after a period in office that has seen widespread destruction of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest.
Climate change is a key issue here, too, and Bolsonaro is currently lagging behind in the polls to an opponent who is promising to create a “greener Brazil”.
Climate change is becoming a more significant political issue year on year.
Polling locally shows young people are the most anxious about the pathway we are currently on, but there is still a misguided belief we are not going to face extreme impacts if we don’t take action.
However, we need to remind ourselves that events from just one country in the world can put our economies and our food supplies into a tailspin.
We need only look to the war in Ukraine and its impacts on oil and gas prices, on wheat and on fertilisers.
Already climate change is presenting a threat to global rice supplies, a fact unbeknownst to many.
In Vietnam, with rising sea levels, more salt water is penetrating inland waterways and destroying rice harvests, and this is set to worsen. Vietnam is the world’s second biggest rice exporter.
As climate change gathers pace, salt will be a growing threat to the world’s food supplies. As will drought.
This is just one example of how climate impacts in other parts of the world will affect households here in Western Europe.
The less we do to prevent carbon emissions the more that impact will multiply.
Stormont is still lagging well behind when it comes to tackling climate change. Yes, the Assembly has passed its first Climate Change Bill with a target of net zero emissions by 2050, but the issue was barely mentioned during the recent election campaign and seems to be falling down the political agenda once again.
However, over the next year the Executive must prepare for the agreement of our first ever Climate Action Plan, and our first carbon budget period begins next year in 2023.
The carbon budget will set a limit on our emissions for the period of 2023-27. That will require challenging policies in areas such as agriculture, transport, housing and energy. Future departmental policies must be in line with this carbon budget.
The passing of the Climate Change Bill was of course a watershed moment in terms of our local efforts to mitigate against the impacts of the climate and nature emergency.
However, the publication of the first carbon budget will be even more significant.
The Committee on Climate Change has already indicated that, to meet our targets, we need to deploy new renewable electricity at scale; provide substantial investment in the electric vehicle charging infrastructure; take concerted action to decarbonise buildings over this decade; see widespread adoption of low carbon farming practices, and significant focus on peatland restoration and afforestation.
I remain confident the Assembly will be restored sometime this year. It would be a great shame if local politicians were not at the helm as we at last start to tackle our utterly shameful emissions record.
As departments prepare for 2023, which will be our most significant year for climate action yet, local ministers (caretaker or not) must start to outline what proposals they will bring to the table to get our emissions down and moving towards safer levels.
As Australia has shown, sooner or later politicians who drag their feet on addressing climate change will get punished by those who will have to live with the impacts of their inaction.
Daithi McKay is the vice chair of Climate Coalition NI