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Evatt Foundation submission on climate action

The core mission of the Evatt Foundation is to advance the ideals of the labour movement that H. V. (Doc) Evatt embodied in his life and work: equality, democracy, social justice and human rights. In view of Evatt’s work to promote these values not only domestically but also internationally, the Foundation is committed to ensuring that Australia is a force in the world for global social justice.

To honour Doc Evatt’s legacy means to act in the spirit of his principles as they apply to Australia’s contemporary context. When Evatt presided over the United Nations General Assembly for its adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, he recognised that, as set out in the preamble of the UDHR, human rights were not simply moral imperatives for their own sake; rather their protection was a necessary condition for freedom, justice and peace in the world, for friendly relations between nations, and to prevent the recurrence of barbarous acts.

In 2020, the protection of human rights continues to play this foundational role, but it has been joined by a second foundational imperative: the protection of the environment and specifically the mitigation of climate change. Unless the governments and peoples of the world take urgent and comprehensive action to first seriously limit and then rapidly eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases (principally carbon), none of the values for which the labour movement stands will be realised. A temperature rise above 1.5 degrees will gravely exacerbate inequality, undermine the conditions for democracy and make life for those to whom the contemporary labour movement is committed intolerable.

This submission from the Evatt Foundation thus stands on two foundations. First, that for the ALP to make a solemn commitment to act on climate change is continuous with the core principles of the labour movement. Second, that its so doing is a necessary condition for acting on these principles. In short, the principles of decency and fairness that underpin the ideals of social justice translate in 2020 to comprehensive climate action.

As the imperative to act on climate change comes to be universally recognised, there will inevitably be ideological and political battles about what forms such action ought to take. There will be significant pressure from sites of concentrated political and economic power to shape the transition in ways that are inconsistent with principles of fairness. In this regard, the labour movement has a critical role to play in ensuring that the transition is informed by principles of social justice and equality. In embracing a set of policies directed to mitigating climate change and putting in place adaptation strategies, we have an opportunity to ensure that the inevitable transition is one that is socially just. The proposal that the Evatt Foundation is making thus seeks to marry the principles of environmental sustainability, environmental justice and social justice.

To pursue these principles, the Evatt Foundation recommends the following policy commitments:

1. Interim, as well as long-term, targets must be set for reduction of emissions causing climate change.

The ALP has already agreed to implement the IPCC’s target for zero emissions by 2050. It is equally important to adopt the IPCC’s interim target of 45% reduction of emissions by 2030. Otherwise, there can be no confidence that the nation is on track to meeting the longer-term goal. Without an interim target there is no effective road map.

2. A national energy policy must focus on expanding renewable energy sources, not gas.

The current Coalition’s proposals for expanding gas production, with which the ALP has previously acquiesced, retain the focus on production and burning of fossil fuels. This adds to greenhouse gas emissions and is unsustainable. Only renewable energy sources can properly feature in a strategy for net zero emissions. Existing gas supplies may play a role in the transition, but investment in increasing gas supply capacity cannot be supported.

3. Creation of more ‘green jobs’ is necessary for the transition to a sustainable economy.

In the currently difficult economic conditions following the onset of the COVID pandemic, meeting the climate change policy challenge should be linked to job-creation. A ‘climate and jobs accord’ would create the basis for a distinctively Australian Green New Deal that could effectively reconcile the otherwise damaging conflict between labour and environmental concerns. Emphasis has to be on ‘jobs and the environment’, not jobs or the environment’.

4. Institutional development is integral to policy development and implementation.

Vested capitalist interests and market processes have brought us to this ecologically unsustainable impasse. Taking control of the nation’s future requires a stronger role for government, working in tandem with labour, environmental and community groups to develop appropriate environmental, energy and economic policies. Lessons can be learned from previous ALP governments about processes of ‘nation building’ and creating institutions for consultation and participation, fostering ongoing public support for progressive policies.

5. Inclusion of First Nations peoples is an essential aspect of a new policy development process.

No-one has stronger sustainability credentials than the Indigenous peoples of Australia, having lived in harmony with this land for over 60,000 years. The current frustrations caused by the Coalition’s crude rejection of the Uluru proposals make yet more urgent the need for Indigenous peoples to have a strong Voice on policy development affecting the nation’s future environmental and economic policy directions.

6. Industry development policies are necessary for driving and managing change.

Moving towards reduction in carbon emissions requires fundamental economic restructuring. This means phasing out environmentally degrading industries and steering investment and employment into more environmentally sustainable forms of production. Carbon pricing is not sufficient for this purpose. The policy instruments must include direct government investment in renewables and the development of an interventionist industry policy to manage the transition.

7. A ‘just transition’ should ensure that the adjustment process does not adversely impact the most vulnerable sections of society.

This requires major focus on provision of resources and facilities for workers’ training and re-skilling and assistance to communities during the transition. This will not occur spontaneously though market processes: it needs strong government investment in education and training, including strong emphasis on upgrading TAFE.

8. Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies should be linked to a broader program of distributive justice.

The public acceptability of any policies depends on whether they are perceived to be fair. Since we aspire to be an egalitarian society, there is therefore a need for progressive tax reform, including taxation of wealth, in tandem with new environmental, energy and economic policies. Government spending also needs to be targeted to where it will have most equitable outcomes.

9. Regional planning can also play a key role in managing the transition to a more ecologically sustainable economy and society.

The diverse regions of Australia have different natural and human resources. Sensitivity to local needs and capabilities is important in the development of environmental, energy and economic policy. For this purpose, the development of regional forums is recommended, so that people affected by policy changes are able to influence what happens in their own region. The principle of ‘think global, act local’ has ongoing resonance in this context.

The Evatt foundation takes the view that a program embodying these principles could, and should, become the basis for ongoing nationwide (and global) commitment and action. The ALP makes its own policy, of course. However, we point out that, were this program to be adopted by the party, it would provide a striking contrast with the Coalition’s evasive approach to the great challenges of our time. As a major theme throughout 2021 and beyond, not just in the immediate run-up to the next Federal election, it would show clearly what Labor stands for, facing both the great threats and opportunities of the current era.


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