The findings from the biggest climate change survey in Australia's history, recently commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation, are incontrovertible: there is widespread support for climate change action, renewables and net zero by 2050. The polling has overpowered any trickle of doubt with a flood of naked truth, showing that the nation is more united than expected on what's been the most polarising issue amongst politicians.
Almost 62 per cent of respondents believe Australia should set a goal to reach net-zero emissions "sooner than" or "latest by" 2050. No longer is this opinion divided bitterly along political lines, as even amongst Coalition voters 60 per cent rated climate change as either being their top priority or within their three top priorities when it comes to voting intention.
Australians have also embraced renewable energy such as solar and wind: over 30 per cent of our energy now comes from renewables, and one in four Australian homes have solar panels. This is reflected in the survey results, with more than 60 per cent of voters nationwide preferring renewable power to new coal plants.
This phenomenon is not limited to the cities, as popular stereotype would have us believe. In fact, the regions seem to be even more enthusiastic about renewable energy, preferring the opportunity that renewables offer whilst avoiding the economic loss and hardship that comes with droughts, floods, bushfires, and other symptoms of climate upset.
Even in the five Coalition-held "coal seats" in Queensland, support for renewables over new coal plants is at an all-time high, and consistent with that of the rest of the nation: in the seat of Capricornia, 67 per cent of the electorate does not believe new coal and gas should be a priority for the federal government, followed by 66 per cent in Flynn, 65 per cent in Dawson, 63 per cent in Herbert and 59 per cent in Maranoa.
In Western Australia, the mining heart of our country, a significant majority of voters - 76 per cent - want the federal government to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Young Australians are also desperate for action on climate. According to the survey from Foundations for Tomorrow, released this week and covering 10,000 responses from Australians aged under 30, an overwhelming 93 per cent believe the government is not doing enough.
For the Coalition, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they must do more, as climate will be a defining issue at the next election.
At Coalition for Conservation, we've been working closely with MPs from the Liberal and National parties, promoting a safe platform for debate and promoting policies and initiatives that align with conservative values. Fortunately, we are seeing many Liberal MPs reclaiming their seat at the environmental table, embracing the scientific consensus, and supporting decarbonisation in line with centre-right principles.
As for the Nationals, we are convinced they are the party best placed to take the lead in this transition as the stewards of our country, representing rural and regional Australians. Protecting the environment and securing opportunities for their local communities must be their prerogative. It's been reassuring to witness a group of Nationals MPs progressing steadily by reasserting their positions as conservationists, rectifying the perception that the National Party has abandoned its grassroots.
And for the members of the Coalition that claim they will only support a net-zero target if they are presented with a clear estimate of costs associated with combating climate change, we would argue that they should instead be focusing on the costs of not acting soon enough.
One of the lessons governments have learnt with the coronavirus is that we must act fast. In March 2020, as the first ravages of Covid spread around the globe like wildfire, governments held their breath and played their cards. Many countries closed borders, rapidly imposed draconian lockdowns, and emptied the public purse on quarantine and stimulus measures. Others dragged their heels, and with bravado proclaimed they would not shut society down - the costs were simply too great.
Eighteen months later, the scores are in. Those countries that took the crisis seriously and went hard and fast on health and job protection measures came out ahead - not just on health metrics such as deaths and hospitalisations, but on economic metrics too.
Just like Covid, the climate change crisis is also about public and environmental health. It is simply no longer good enough to stand on a pedestal and decry the costs of acting, when the economy, lives and livelihoods are at stake.
On the bright side, climate change poses various economic opportunities that conservatives are well placed to manage. When it comes to generating new export markets, new jobs in green industries such the manufacture of green hydrogen, and creating energy-independent communities, these are all in line with conservative, market-based, economically durable principles.
The Coalition must be at the forefront of this change and take a pre-emptive position, moving away from being reactionary. Now is the time to kick with the wind without fear or favour.
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