October 7, 2022

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CANBERRA, Australia — For as long as I’ve been in Australia, climate change policy has stymied governments, leading to division, inaction and embarrassment, most recently as the country became a global laggard at last year’s international climate conference in Copenhagen.

That is now set to change with the passage of a bill by the House of Commons this week that will finally put Australia on a path to cut carbon emissions by a significant amount – 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate next month after the Labor government secured reluctant support from the Australian Greens, who had pushed for a higher target. And it’s being hailed as the most important climate bill in a decade, while also being criticized for not going far enough.

Both may be true, of course, and in my conversations this week with experts in both climate science and climate policy, I was struck by their expectation that the legislation would have momentum and progress.

The first thing they noticed: The goal itself produces a framework for stability and enhanced action. Enshrining a 43 percent cut in legislation gives businesses and local governments the confidence to invest in reducing carbon emissions without worrying that competitors who want to avoid such an expense will later be rewarded by another government that doesn’t believe the changes are necessary.

A second element of the legislation that I heard a lot about was a mechanism for independent evaluation and improvement of this first step.

As the Climate Council notes his analysis of the legislation:

  • Returns power to an independent panel of experts (the Climate Change Authority) to monitor Australia’s progress against targets and to shape movement towards future targets, including those expected from the 2035 Paris Agreement.

  • Under the new law, the Climate Change Minister will have to report to Parliament every year on Australia’s progress towards the country’s targets.

What these two elements do is force Australia to continue the conversation, with scientists playing a leading role. It’s the thing that good governance experts often call upon for contentious policy issues, and it helps counter what psychologists who study humanity’s response to risks of all kinds describe as “unitary action bias.”

Elke Weber, professor of psychology at Princeton University, whom I interviewed for my book (which was published in Australia and will be released next year in the United States), described the idea as a major obstacle to sustained action on big problems like climate change. The idea is that, in response to uncertain, fearful situations, people tend to simplify their decision-making and rely on one action, without any further action—usually because the first one reduced the feeling of anxiety or vulnerability.

What makes the climate bill so interesting to me, as a risk scholar, is that it builds into its structure a framework for further action and a trigger that could cause that action to continue and grow over time. Sets repeat action and customization as default.

Many other pieces of legislation do as well, in Australia and other countries. The United States is also on the verge of passing landmark climate legislation that will help the country meet its goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030, largely through tax breaks and other incentives that will build momentum over time. of time. But Australia, after years of politicized “climate wars”, appears to have found a model that recognizes more needs to be done.

It is not so much a solution as the belated beginning of a great transition that the whole world has been slow to begin.

“This climate bill will not be enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but it is a giant leap forward and opens a new era of cooperation and constructive policymaking,” said Richie Merzian, program director for climate and energy at the Australia Institute. “There is still a lot of work to be done to reverse Australia’s role as the third largest exporter of fossil fuels, but there is hope and momentum that things are finally starting to turn around.”

Here are the stories of the week.

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