When Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) activists met in early March 2020 to map out our next campaign, we could never have predicted the year that was about to unfold. COVID was not yet a familiar word, an intense bushfire season was abating, and the idea of being a renewable superpower was gaining momentum. LEAN developed a pathway to net zero by 2050 which included a strong focus on jobs and on protecting our environment. We named this campaign Rebuilding Australia. Fast forward a year later and that pathway is still as valid and even more urgent on the back of a COVID ravaged economy. People want certainty, both in terms of jobs and public health.
The reality is that climate action, adaptation and proactively protecting our environment can create job opportunities, often in the places that employment is most needed. This is the Renewable Superpower good news story. If we use our natural assets – sun, wind, land – we can produce cheap clean energy, which can be used to reboot manufacturing in this country. We are also abundant in the metals and minerals that are required for renewables. Think ‘low carbon steel and aluminium’. Then think possible boom time.
LEAN believes that an energy and climate change policy that focuses on jobs and looking after people and country, is a necessity and a vote winner. This is backed up by the research done by the ANU into the 2019 election that found climate change and the environment were the most relevant issue for voters in 2019 as they had been in 2007. LEAN wants Labor to be ambitious in this space just as Curtin and Chifley were as they planned Australia’s recovery after WWII. The policies need to continue to be told in the frame of job opportunities as Labor is already doing. Reordering the economy will require a bold Labor government who puts workers and the environment at the forefront of their policies and will require government intervention and investment.
There are jobs in the obvious areas such as electrifying the transport network – electric vehicles and fast rail – and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiencies and solar. Labor has already made the huge commitment to upgrading the electricity grid “Rewiring the Nation” but also needs to invest in generation and storage with as much locally produced as possible.
Then there are the newer job opportunities in restorative land management - replanting landscapes, developing carbon farming - that need to be considered as part of an industry in itself. This protection work can not only save our beloved flora and fauna but according to the CSIRO, it can offset huge amounts of Australia’s abatement need (by one third to one half between 2031 to 2050). It is also work that is situated in many regional areas of the country.
LEAN also wants Labor to develop policy to adapt to changing conditions and to ensure our physical and social infrastructure will be ready to cope with the effects of climate change. This might be planting trees in urban areas for cooling, so they remain habitable, cleaning our waterways, upgrading public transport, or building community resilience. Again, this will provide more jobs - in construction and in the less talked about low carbon jobs in the ‘caring’ economy. As part of that social contract with Australians, Labor will also need to invest in combatting intense weather events such as bushfires and floods with policies such as the previously announced national firefighting fleet and crew.
But of course, in order to deliver on these big scale projects and job programs, Australia will need the appropriate institutions such as TAFE and a federal Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn, will creates more jobs. And the final and vital point is that Labor must work directly with regional or suburban communities to develop localised and region-specific plans to prosper in a low carbon future.
LEAN knows that there has never been such an important time for Labor to have bold policies to address climate change and biodiversity loss. Climate action creates jobs and will address the economic shock of COVID. Australia desperately needs a Labor government for so many reasons but none so urgent as climate change and jobs.
Louise Crawford is the National Campaign Organiser for LEAN and when she is not busy doing that, she is also the Mayor of the City of Port Phillip in Victoria.