Snapshot: What do the results of Australia’s federal election mean for climate and science?

With the toppling of a government and the election of roughly a dozen climate-focused members to parliament, it would seem that climate change loomed large for voters at the polling booths.

Due to the counting of ballots, it’s still not clear whether the Labor Party will be able to form a majority to govern in its own right, or must rely on the crossbench for support.

Either way, what can we expect for climate and science from the new government? Here are the highlights.

Climate change

The Labor Party brought a 2030 emissions target to the election that was significantly more ambitious than the Liberal-National Coalition: a 43% reduction in emissions, as opposed to a 26-28% reduction.

Such a reduction is, however, still inconsistent with keeping global temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial averages, as widely agreed upon under the Paris Agreement. This would need to be at least 57%, depending on how emissions are counted. If Labor’s target were to be adopted universally, temperatures would likely rise by 2°C.

The so-called “teal” independents associated with the Climate 200 group, and also the Greens, have adopted 2030 reduction targets of 60% and 75%, respectively. Both of these targets are Paris-aligned, and both the group and the party have said they’ll be pushing Labor to increase its 2030 ambition if the ALP needs their support in the event of a hung parliament. The (projected) strong presence of the Greens in the Senate may also have an influence on this.

The Labor Party’s emissions reduction will largely come from its Powering Australia plan, which includes $20 billion to modernise, and largely decarbonise, the electricity grid. Before the election it committed $500 million for electric vehicle infrastructure, and plans to bring the costs of EVs down with further subsidies.

“Australia has a window of opportunity to become a world leader in renewable energy generation, low and negative emission technologies – but that window is rapidly closing,” Hugh Bradlow, president of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, said in a statement.

“We urge the new Australian Government to act now and not squander our renewable technology advantage, by implementing a comprehensive plan that transitions to a net-zero emissions economy backed by regulation and incentives.”

Like its predecessor in government, the Labor Party does not have plans to reduce the overseas export of mined fossil fuels.

Research funding

Labor has supported the former federal government’s research funding commitments, including a $1.6 billion research commercialisation fund aimed at bringing research from universities into the industrial sphere.

“Ahead of the election, Labor committed to pass legislation for the new $1.6 billion research commercialisation fund, adopt a fixed timetable for research grant announcements, and work with industry and universities to boost Australia’s investment in research and development closer to 3% of GDP,” Science & Technology Australia chief executive Misha Schubert said in a statement.

“These are important commitments to strengthen Australia’s economy and society through science and technology capabilities.”

It’s also proposed an Australian Universities Accord to centralise and stabilise university funding and management policy.

Careers in STEM

Labor’s Made in Australia, and National Reconstruction Fund plans both have significant implications for STEM professionals in Australia.

The party has a target of creating 1.2 million jobs in technology sectors by 2030, including work in local manufacturing, and more apprenticeships and traineeships. The party also wants to provide 465,000 fee-free TAFE places over the next decade and increase the number of university places.

Bradlow said: “Applied science, technology and engineering continue to help Australia navigate through the pandemic, but we need a comprehensive plan that assures Australia’s sovereign capabilities and secures Australia’s economic future.

“We will need 100,000 more digitally skilled workers by 2024 and 40,000 more engineers by 2025.”

Interested in having science explained? Listen to our new podcast.

Please login to favourite this article.