Will Australia’s climate policy survive 2013?

Believe it or not, we all survived the Mayan apocalypse. It looks like we might even survive this fiscal cliff nonsense, and we all survived the first 6 months of Australia’s supposedly ‘catastrophic’ carbon tax. What a miracle 12 months we’ve had!

But will 2013 be an apocalyptic year for Australia’s climate change policy?

Over the last 2 years, I have watched on as political shifts in Canada and New Zealand have effectively reversed climate change policy in these two countries. What has happened in both proves that international climate policy is almost as volatile as climate change itself.

This year, as Tony Abbott’s conservative party colleagues are already eying out their seats on the other side of parliament, will his climate legacy be the same as his international conservative contemporaries?

I remember passing tissues to climate activists from New Zealand as they ushered in their 2011 election results with tears dripping onto their laptops. At the time, I didn’t really understand it. What was all the drama about? To me, I had always looked on to New Zealand’s own Emissions Trading Scheme (like a carbon tax) with envy and admired their far more progressive Kyoto protocol targets.

However, what my friends from New Zealand’s Youth Delegation to the UN climate negotiations already knew, was that all of that was about to change. Their tears came true. Within the next year, New Zealand’s new conservative National Government, led by John Key reneged on its international climate responsibilities and pulled out of Kyoto.

And as a result of the recent decision by countries at the UN climate negotiations in Doha to not allow non-Kyoto countries to take advantage of carbon markets within the Kyoto Protocol, their Emissions Trading Scheme will suffer as well…and might be in need of some serious reshuffling.

And then there’s Canada. Oh Canada. Thanks to Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, Canada has gone from being that nice, polite, progressive kid you could introduce to your parents, to the local hitman. Not only did Canada turn its back on its Kyoto agreements and its $7 billion Kyoto bill, but since then, the government has laid waste to the country’s environmental credentials.

This year alone, Harper’s Conservative government has introduced over $160 million in cuts to environmental spending as well as gutted the country’s environmental legislation, including lifting the requirements for environmental assessments of offshore drilling. They even made most of these changes during this year’s Rio+20 UN Earth Summit, causing widespread post-traumatic disorder among environmental groups across the world.

And unless something dramatic happens to the water surrounding Parliament house, it looks like Australia might be heading for the same climate policy backflips.

Ever since Kevin Rudd was elected way back in 2007, Australia has quickly moved to make up the ground it lost during the endless years of climate silence that had reigned before. We joined the Kyoto Protocol, continued our commitment this year, and implemented our now world famous Carbon tax.

But the Labor party has come a long way from its 2007 popularity, and Tony Abbott is the far-and-away favourite to take out the election this year. Interestingly, The latest poll by Essential Research has found that as of November last year, more people support the carbon tax (46%) than oppose it (44%). In fact, The carbon tax is now more popular than Tony Abbott. Support for Abbott is at -31% (voter satisfaction compared to dissatisfaction according to Newspol).

Sadly however, support for Julia Gillad’s Labor government is even worse. So as Australia goes to the election this year to pick their lesser of two unwanted governing parties, all of this positive progressive movement could take a turn for the worse, overnight.

Throughout his time as the Liberal opposition leader, Abbott has vowed to crush the carbon tax. “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”  has been an all too repeated calling card Abbott has kept on speed dial. He has also labelled the Carbon tax as an octopus, a sudden cobra strike, a phyton squeeze, a cash cow and a dog of a tax. So he’s going to look pretty silly to anyone who has been listening if he allows this animorphing piece of climate policy to stick around.

While Abbott’s personal polling took a slide for the worse after everyone realised that the Carbon tax was not nearly as catastrophic as Abbott made it seem, he’s still beating on the drum.

In a recent column for News Limited, Abbott wrote that he plans to resurrect his fear-mongering tactics in a bid to abolish the carbon tax as Prime Minister.

“AUSTRALIA is a great country that needs a better government. We need a government that’s prudent with taxpayers’ money, competent in delivering services and, above all, honest with people about what it will and won’t deliver. If elected this year, the Coalition will: reduce the pressure on family budgets by abolishing the carbon tax”

This is all part of his new “positive” plan to “build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.” Admittedly, nobody wants to hear Tony Abbott when he’s negative.

But scrapping the Carbon Tax would not support Aussie families, and if anything, it would make for a far more insecure Australia as these families plan for their future. What Tony Abbott doesn’t realise is that the Carbon Tax is not made to hurt Aussie families, but support them, and to support a safer and more secure future for Australia as these families grow up and grow old.

And it would be pretty complex. He would need a big majority to be able to all out scrap the Carbon Tax. But if statewide elections are a trend of things to come, Australia’s Carbon Tax may be on the chopping block faster than you know. And if the Carbon Tax goes, Australia’s Kyoto commitments go with it.

So far early hints put the election somewhere in August. If nothing changes before then, we could see some dramatic changes to Australia’s climate policy before the year ends.