Climate change threat now tops Australians’ concerns, Lowy poll finds


The Lowy poll, part of a wider survey to be released next month, is the latest to indicate voters have become more concerned about climate threats, possibly prompted by extreme weather events such summer floods in the north and widespread drought in the country’s south.

Australia posted its hottest summer on record in 2018-19 – by almost a whole degree – and the first four months have continued to be the warmest in data going back to 1910, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

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Lowy found six of ten respondents agree “global warming is a serious and pressing problem [and] we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”. That view has marked a huge turn around – jumping 25 percentage points since 2012’s nadir – and is closing in on the peak reading of 68 per cent in 2006.

By comparison, only a tenth said “until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs”. Just over a quarter agreed with the view “the problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost”.

During the election, the Morrison government has demanded Labor present costings for its climate policies, including its target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

By contrast, the Coalition is proposing about $3 billion to meet Australia’s Paris climate target of a 26 per cent reduction in emissions – a figure that will be roughly half met by applying expected surplus credits earned during the Kyoto Protocol period. Most nations with such “carryover” credits have vowed to voluntarily extinguish them.

According to Lowy, support for climate action is strongest among Australians aged 18-44, with slightly more than three-quarters in favour – up from 70 per cent a year ago. Just under half of those over 45 “share this concern”, Lowy said.

On a two-party perspective, 59 per cent of respondents said Labor “would do a better job of managing Australia’s response to climate change than the Coalition”, the institute said. Only 32 per cent backed the Coalition’s position.

Of the nine foreign policy issues, the Coalition was preferred on five of them, including national security and economic management, and was tied on the other three, Ms Kassam said.

Worries about climate change eased to just 36 per cent in 2012 in part because of better weather, but also because the government at the time – under Labor’s Julia Gillard made “some real policy developments’ to tackle the issues, she said.

Since then, there’s been “a very significant trend” of increased concern, she said.

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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