Climate change – and what Australia will do to combat it – is set to be a key battleground next time Australia goes to the polls. So, where do the two big parties stand on it?
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings have painted a grim picture for the future – but how to handle that threat is rapidly becoming a political issue as Australia moves closer to a Federal election.
The IPCC’s handed down its report on Monday, warning of dire global consequences if nations did not work towards limiting global temperature rises to 1.5-2C.
Complied by 90 leading climate scientists, it called for the total phase out of coal and a “global transformation” across the economy by 2050 to avoid irreparable global damage.
Unless emissions are halved 2030 – and all but eliminated by 2050 – Earth’s temperature will likely increase past 2C, according to the report.
In the Australian context, the difference between halting the temperature rise at 1.5C rather than 2C could be the difference between the almost total destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and preserving as much as 70 per cent of it.
If the temperature rises beyond 2C, the world faces an increasingly dire fate, starting with the melting of the permafrost.
The instructions from the IPCC were clear – if Australia, and the rest of the world, wants to avoid this fate it needs to quit coal by 2050.
With fossil fuels fingered as the culprit for the world’s climate woes, the divide between the Coalition and the Labor opposition has opened even further ahead of next year’s election, according to Greenpeace’s head of research and investigations Nikola Casule.
“Climate change has become a culture war in Australia, but it’s not a matter of right or left – it’s a matter of ensuring the survival of the species,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the IPCC report, saying it did not “provide recommendations to Australia” and that his primary focus was on keeping electricity prices down for Australian homes and businesses.
"I am not going to rule out things based on ideology," he said in Sydney on Tuesday.
"I am going to consider things that I think will ensure that we get electricity prices down when it comes to energy. I will also always consider things that will help us meet our environmental targets."
The Australian government is committed to reducing emissions via both the Kyoto Protocol (5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020) and the Paris Agreement (26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030).
The Prime Minister this week reaffirmed Australia would still meet its Paris climate accords targets, based on investment in renewable energy.
But the IPCC report found the measures outlined under the Paris accords are not enough to limit global warming to that critical 1.5C.
The government has also cited its Emission Reduction Fund, a voluntary scheme designed to “finance incentives for businesses and communities to reduce emissions”.
The $2.5 billion program established under Tony Abbott’s government funds incentives such as paying farmers to grow trees on their land or collecting and combusting methane from a piggery.
However, there is only just over $250 million left in the ERF as of June and it appears unlikely to be topped up.
“The Coalition’s response (to the IPCC) was disgraceful,” Mr Casule said.
“The reality is that the Coalition has no climate change policy on the table. The Coalition just has no credibility when it comes to these issues.”
With the terms agreed to in the 2015 Paris agreement no longer enough to combat climate change, Mr Casule said the Coalition was effectively doing nothing to stop a rise in temperature.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten famously broke with big coal earlier this year when he declared he “doesn’t like” mega coal mine Adani.
But Mr Shorten followed that up, by pointing out that coal still formed part of Labor’s energy vision, if elected, alongside an increased focus on renewable energy.
Labor has committed to 50 per cent drop in emissions from Australia’s electricity production by 2030 and a 45 per cent reduction across other sectors.
“A Labor Government will engage with industry, experts, investors, scientists, researchers and consumers to put in place the most appropriate policy settings for the period 2020-2030,” the party said in a statement.
After the handing down of the IPCC report, Labor’s Climate Change spokesman Mark Butler said a 50 per cent reduction was “the right thing”.
“We think 50 per cent by 2030 is the right thing to do and obviously things aren't going to stop at 2030," he told ABC radio.
"Over the course of the 2030s there will be further transition in our energy sector, not through decisions made in 2018 but decisions that will be made over the course of the 2020s."
While Labor’s targets are in line with the IPCC, Mr Casule said it should be committing to going further.
“The goal of any emissions reduction scheme is to get the quickest and most effective drop in emissions,” he said.
“Electricity is the low hanging fruit – the technology is there, it’s cheaper to implement, while the other industries face other challenges.
“You should be stating you want to see a 100 per cent reduction in electrical emissions – that’s feasible – and a 65 per cent reduction across other industries by 2030.”