Crucial Need for Ambitious Climate Action in Australia

Human Rights Watch

The new Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, should make ambitious action on climate a priority of his new government, Human Rights Watch said today.

Albanese’s Australian Labor Party won the May 21, 2022 election, though it remains short of a majority of seats in the lower house. While Labor defeated the governing coalition, Australians voted for a record number of representatives outside the two-party system, giving unprecedented support to the Greens Party and climate-focused independents.

“The Australian election results indicate strong public support for urgent and ambitious action on climate change,” said Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Newly elected Prime Minister Albanese should use this mandate to shift the country from climate laggard to climate leader.”

The climate crisis poses a serious risk to human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, and an adequate standard of living for individuals and communities across the world. Governments have a human rights obligation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving it.

Australia is among the top 20 emitters and one of the world’s biggest per capita emitters of the greenhouse gases responsible for the climate breakdown, and the resulting toll on human rights around the globe. Australia is also the third largest exporter of fossil fuels globally. Its fossil fuel companies also benefit from significant tax breaks, with fossil fuel subsidies having increased by 48 percent since the Paris agreement in 2015.

Labor’s climate policy sets higher emission reduction targets than the previous government’s — 43 percent by 2030, compared to 26-28 percent. In his post-election acceptance speech, Albanese pledged to end divisive political “climate wars” and make Australia a “renewable energy superpower.”

However, the new prime minister has also previously supported opening new fossil fuel projects in Australia, including coal, oil and gas developments. “If coal mines stack up environmentally, and then commercially, which is the decision for the companies, then they get approved,” Albanese said during the election campaign.

In 2021, the International Energy Agency announced that if governments are serious about the climate crisis, there could be no new investments in oil, gas, and coal from the beginning of 2022. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that existing fossil fuel projects are already more than the climate can withstand if the aim is to limit global warming to a 1.5º Celsius increase and prevent the very worst outcomes of climate breakdown.

The Australian government’s Department of Energy and Resources currently lists 116 major coal and gas projects under development in the country.

“Governments have an obligation to prevent violations of international human rights law, including by robustly regulating harmful emissions,” McNeill said. “Albanese should ensure that his government takes urgent steps to effectively regulate corporations’ greenhouse gas emissions, cease subsidizing fossil fuels, and end support for new oil, gas, and coal projects.”

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