Albanese is running out of time to solve Labor’s climate crisis. He needs a plan that works for two Australias



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

During the recent American elections, the most eye-catching graphics were were the individual county tallies.

These showed that even when states appeared to be overwhelmingly Republican red, some still “flipped” to the Democrats on the strength of a smaller number of blue squares.

The trick? These azure islands denoted population clusters in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

The left-right chasm between urbanised Americans and the more sparsely distributed rural-regional ones was there to see in primary colours.

But the division itself was neither new, nor especially American.

Across England’s industrial north, British Labour’s Euro-centric cosmopolitanism cut little ice in the Brexit referendum of 2016, the same year once rusted-on working class Democrats first broke for Trump.

Labor struggling to reach ‘two Australias’

And of course in Australia, this trend is also well established.

Indeed, Coalition majorities have long been built on the need for niche-messaging. This sees Liberals garner the city vote, while mostly leaving the Nationals to reinterpret the conservative brand for bush sensibilities.

As a one-message-fits-all party, the ALP has struggled with this, and as the two Australias become more distinct and antagonistic, the strain is showing.

Labor’s primary vote nationally is stuck in the low-to-mid 30% range. In the resources states, it sits even lower. That’s too low to win a majority, prompting some in Labor to suggest a Liberal/National-style partnership with the Greens.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese looks glum in parliament.
Labor needs to boost its primary vote if it is to win government on its own.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

But it is far from clear how this would maximise the combined lower house seat haul, given they both court the same inner-city electors. What seems more obvious is that a joint Labor-Greens ticket would actually accelerate the drift of industrially-centred regional seats towards the Coalition.

Fitzgibbon and the coal dilemma

This is already happening.

According to Joel Fitzgibbon, who resigned last week from the shadow frontbench, Labor’s ambitious 45% by 2030 emissions cut at the last election proved this. After being pushed to preferences in 2019 on the back of a 14% primary vote slump, Fitzgibbon believes that “crazy” policy was kryptonite in his coal-dominated seat, and in regional communities up and down the eastern seaboard.




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Grattan on Friday: Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon waves the lightsaber


The Hunter Valley-based MP, and others in Labor’s right faction, argue such communities feel abandoned by a party beholden to inner-city progressives.
There’s no doubt Labor MPs are increasingly pessimistic over their electoral prospects.

Some on the right insist the party is doomed unless it actively reconnects with its industrial roots, and that means dropping the climate change focus.

As Fitzgibbon told reporters when announcing his frontbench resignation,

We have to speak to, and be a voice for, all those who we seek to represent, whether they be in Surry Hills or Rockhampton. And that’s a difficult balance.

For Labor leader Anthony Albanese, this presents a near unsolvable puzzle. He needs to outflank the Greens on his capacity to form a government and deliver, and out-perform the Coalition on commitment. Now, he must also manage a rebellion inside his caucus from those who want to dump the party’s climate policy.

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon
Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon is pressuring the party to adopt a less ambitious emissions plan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Right-aligned MPs, buttressed by powerful unions, argue steering closer to the Coalition than the Greens is the only way to secure government.

But Labor’s paid-up membership and a majority of its MPs favour a clear acknowledgement of the scientific evidence — evidence that unambiguously calls for the phasing out of fossil fuels in the next decade or two.

In a sign of things to come, the blaze of publicity surrounding Fitzgibbon’s resignation completely derailed Labor’s attempt to highlight how the new Democratic White House had left the Morrison government exposed as the only serious economy explicitly not committed to a net-zero time-line.




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After Biden’s win, Australia needs to step up and recommit to this vital UN climate change fund


But Fitzgibbon, who claims to have substantial caucus support, wants Labor to simply tuck in behind the Morrison government and allow it to take any political heat for emissions targets not met and voters left frustrated.

Yet this too would be politically calamitous.

There could be an election next year

With an election possible within 12 months, time to reconcile these oil-and-water imperatives is fast running out.

It is a perfect storm. On the one hand, there is rising pessimism over Labor’s ability to compete with the Morrison government – especially during a pandemic. On the other, rising community impatience for decisive climate action.




Read more:
Labor’s climate policy is too little, too late. We must run faster to win the race


That the opposition has not yet named interim emissions targets for 2030 and 2035 despite a clear commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, speaks to its nervousness. Its rhetoric stresses urgency and purpose, but its detail reveals hesitation.

Insiders know any repeat of its 2019 each-way bet on the Adani coal-mine will be a gift to the Greens.

As the policy show-down looms, so too does the ever-present danger to Albanese of it morphing into a leadership stoush. The left’s Tanya Plibersek and the right’s Jim Chalmers are regarded as the most credible alternatives.

Labor MPs Jim Chalmers and Tanya Plibersek.
Leadership speculation has bubbled up again, as Labor struggles with its climate stance.
Samantha Manchee/AAP

While only a climate capitulation would satisfy right-wing malcontents, another school of thought favours a doubling down, based on the simple arithmetic that there are a dozen-plus Coalition seats held by margins of under 5% — more than enough to compensate for the loss of regional electorates.

Bold transition fund needed

Perhaps Labor’s only hope of keeping both sides in the tent is to propose a bold, generously funded transition fund.

This would not just talk about green jobs and retraining, but directly pay those workers who are displaced. It would include everything from the loss of income and retraining, to compensating for the loss of businesses, house values, and full family relocation costs.

Taking advantage of the low cost of borrowing, this multibillion brown-to-green transition fund could guarantee workers in phased-out sectors would not be left to carry the costs of what is a “national” responsibility and “national” economic reconfiguration.

This could this be Labor’s winning formula: representation, leading to reparation, enabling reform.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Humans are changing fire patterns, and it’s threatening 4,403 species with extinction



The Leadbeater’s possum, one of thousands of species threatened by changing fire regimes.
Shutterstock

Luke Kelly, University of Melbourne; Annabel Smith, The University of Queensland; Katherine Giljohann, University of Melbourne, and Michael Clarke, La Trobe University

Last summer, many Australians were shocked to see fires sweep through the wet tropical rainforests of Queensland, where large and severe fires are almost unheard of. This is just one example of how human activities are changing fire patterns around the world, with huge consequences for wildlife.

In a major new paper published in Science, we reveal how changes in fire activity threaten more than 4,400 species across the globe with extinction. This includes 19% of birds, 16% of mammals, 17% of dragonflies and 19% of legumes that are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.




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But, we also highlight the emerging ways we can help promote biodiversity and stop extinctions in this new era of fire. It starts with understanding what’s causing these changes and what we can do to promote the “right” kind of fire.

How is fire activity changing?

Recent fires have burned ecosystems where wildfire has historically been rare or absent, from the tropical forests of Queensland, Southeast Asia and South America to the tundra of the Arctic Circle.

Exceptionally large and severe fires have also been observed in areas with a long history of fire. For example, the 12.6 million hectares that burnt in eastern Australia during last summer’s devastating bushfires was unprecedented in scale.

The post-fire landscape in Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island, three months after an extremely large and severe bushfire last summer.
Luke Kelly

This extreme event came at a time when fire seasons are getting longer, with more extreme wildfires predicted in forests and shrublands in Australia, southern Europe and western United States.

But fire activity isn’t increasing everywhere. Grasslands in countries such as Brazil, Tanzania, and the United States have had fire activity reduced.

Extinction risk in a fiery world

Fire enables many plants to complete their life cycles, creates habitats for a wide range of animals and maintains a diversity of ecosystems. Many species are adapted to particular patterns of fire, such as banksias — plants that release seeds into the resource-rich ash covering the ground after fire.

But changing how often fires occur and in what seasons can harm populations of species like these, and transform the ecosystems they rely on.

We reviewed data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and found that of the 29,304 land-based and freshwater species listed as threatened, modified fire regimes are a threat to more than 4,403.

Most are categorised as threatened by an increase in fire frequency or intensity.

For example, the endangered mallee emu-wren in semi-arid Australia is confined to isolated patches of habitat, which makes them vulnerable to large bushfires that can destroy entire local populations.

Likewise, the Kangaroo Island dunnart was listed as critically endangered before it lost 95% of its habitat in the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires.

Large bushfires threaten many birds, such as the mallee emu-wren.
Ron Knight/Wikimedia, CC BY

However, some species and ecosystems are threatened when fire doesn’t occur. Frequent fires are an important part of African savanna ecosystems and less fire activity can lead to shrub encroachment. This can displace wild herbivores such as wildebeest that prefer open areas.

How humans change fire regimes

There are three main ways humans are transforming fire activity: global climate change, land-use and the introduction of pest species.

Global climate change modifies fire regimes by changing fuels such as dry vegetation, ignitions such as lightning, and creating more extreme fire weather.

What’s more, climate-induced fires can occur before the dominant tree species are old enough to produce seed, and this is reshaping forests in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Humans also alter fire regimes through farming, forestry, urbanisation and by intentionally starting or suppressing fires.

Introduced species can also change fire activity and ecosystems. For example, in savanna landscapes of Northern Australia, invasive gamba grass increases flammability and fire frequency. And invasive animals, such as red foxes and feral cats, prey on native animals exposed in recently burnt areas.




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Fire-ravaged Kangaroo Island is teeming with feral cats. It’s bad news for this little marsupial


Importantly, cultural, social and economic changes underpin these drivers. In Australia, the displacement of Indigenous peoples and their nuanced and purposeful use of fire has been linked with extinctions of mammals and is transforming vegetation.

We need bolder conservation strategies

A suite of emerging actions — some established but receiving increasing attention, others new — could help us navigate this new fire era and save species from extinction. They include:

In Africa, reintroducing grazing animals such as rhinoceros create patchy fire regimes.
Sally Archibald, Author provided

Where to from here?

The input of scientists will be valuable in helping navigate big decisions about new and changing ecosystems.

Empirical data and models can monitor and forecast changes in biodiversity. For example, new modelling has allowed University of Melbourne researchers to identify alternative strategies for introducing planned or prescribed burning that reduces the risk of large bushfires to koalas.

New partnerships are also needed to meet the challenges ahead.

At the local and regional scale, Indigenous-led fire stewardship is an important approach for fostering relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations and communities around the world.

Frank Lake, a co-author on our new paper, works with Yurok and Karuk fire practitioners, shown here burning under oaks.
Frank Lake, U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station.

And international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming are crucial to reduce the risk of extreme fire events. With more extreme fire events ahead of us, learning to understand and adapt to changes in fire regimes has never been more important.




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The world’s best fire management system is in northern Australia, and it’s led by Indigenous land managers


The Conversation


Luke Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Centenary Research Fellow, University of Melbourne; Annabel Smith, Lecturer in Wildlife Management, The University of Queensland; Katherine Giljohann, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Melbourne, and Michael Clarke, Professor of Zoology, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.