A major political upheaval took place in November as the ruling right-wing Liberal party, and the reigning Prime Minister John Howard, were both ousted from government in Australia after over a decade in power – and the result is good news for Australian environmentalists.
Throughout his leadership Howard had been strongly criticized for his poor environmental record, especially his refusal, like George Bush, to sign the Kyoto agreement. The incoming Labor government under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, however, had made environmental issues a key part of their campaign, which may have played a vital role in their success.
Numerous environmental plans were featured in their party manifesto, including a commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at the earliest opportunity – which will leave the US as the only developed nation to have not signed up.
Other green initiatives promised in the manifesto include setting a target to cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60 percent by 2050, introducing a national emissions trading scheme by 2010 and gaining 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
To help achieve these targets the Labor government plan to invest up to AUS$489 million in a National Solar Schools Plan to make all of Australia’s 9,612 private and public schools solar powered within eight years. Up to AUS$50 million will be provided to assist companies seeking to develop geothermal energy – also known as “hot rock technology”, and homeowners will be offered rebates and low interest loans to encourage the uptake of solar power.
The government also aims to tackle one of Australia’s most urgent issues – the water crisis. Over AUS$1 billion will be invested in urban desalination, water recycling and stormwater capture projects and centers of excellence will be set up in Perth and Brisbane, whose research will help benefit projects across the globe.
Manifesto promises by politicians don’t always equal action of course, but the 2007 election also resulted in the largest ever share of the vote for the Australian Green Party. Their win of at least five senate seats means they are now the third largest political party in Australia, and hold a greater influence on political decisions – which will help them enforce Labor’s green manifesto pledges.