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The politics of climate change in Australia

Beeson, M. and McDonald, M. (2013) The politics of climate change in Australia. Australian Journal of Politics and History, 59 (3). pp. 331-348.

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Global climate change has become one of the most contentious and divisive issues in Australian politics. In part, this reflects the nature of the problem itself and Australia’s vulnerability both to manifestations of climate change on one hand and its mitigation on the other. While a land of heat and drought, and still a major agricultural producer, Australia also has an immediate economic interest in the maintenance of a global fossil fuel economy given its status as the world’s largest exporter of coal. And while Australia has one of the world’s oldest Green political parties, its citizens are also among the largest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

With this context it is unsurprising that action on climate change should be contentious and climate change might indeed be defined as a “wicked” or “diabolical” problem.1 Yet the frequency and ferocity of contestation in Australia within the last decade over how to respond to climate change has been stunning, as has the oscillation of public opinion on whether, and how, to act in response to global climate change. Making sense of these dynamics is not simply a matter of pointing to the opposition of different interests. It also requires attention to the ways in which the problem and responses to it have been framed; how different groups have mobilized in support or opposition to climate change action and in what sites; how public debate has evolved and been influenced by changing domestic and international contexts; and what policy responses have ultimately been pursued in response, with what effects. These are questions of politics, and the questions that animate both this special issue and the papers that constitute it. If politics can be understood as a site of contestation over the values of a society, how they might be protected or advanced and how risks and costs should be distributed across that society, no issue has seemed to compel such radically different and oppositional responses (both in parliament and in public debate) as climate change.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
Copyright: © 2013 School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland and Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.
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