Two recent prospective policy announcements in Europe demonstrate how far Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world in environmental action, and how childish our political divide on these issues must look to international observers.

UK environmental secretary Michael Gove announced last week that the Conservative Party government planned to implement a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and earbuds by October 2020.

Meanwhile, the European parliament went one step further the next day by approving a directive to ban all single-use plastics in the near future.

While the implementation of progressive environmental reform by the European Union would come as little surprise to many in Australia, some may be taken aback by the green policy actions of Theresa May’s government.

The Tories have, in fact, been relatively proactive on the environmental policy front since former prime minister David Cameron announced in 2011 that his government would be the “greenest ever” UK administration.

The governing party has gone on to set a target of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2050, plans to ban the sale of new petrol cars by 2040 and just weeks ago wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to seek advice on a realistic date for zero net emissions to become a reality.

In March, Gove announced an incentivised deposit return scheme for glass, metal and plastic, similar to others in Europe, would be implemented in England to increase the rate of recycling. These actions couldn’t be further from the continual environmental policy inertia and myopia endemic in Australia’s own Liberal Party and its agrarian ally.

Despite a senate report that advised a ban on single-use plastics by 2023 gaining cross-party support in June, there has been not a word uttered by Environment Minister Melissa Price, or her predecessor Josh Frydenberg, on implementing such a change. Meanwhile, there is no plan on a future ban of petrol car sales.

And how could we forget the National Energy Guarantee fiasco? Malcolm Turnbull’s attempt at passing a very moderate climate policy was so reviled by the pro-coal gang of the government that it forced him into retirement and left Australia without an overarching policy on climate change.  

Australia’s greenest ever government these Tories ain’t.  

In fact, when you examine international conservative party action on environmental issues, it appears the Liberal Party is somewhat of an anomaly among developed western democracies.

Germany has been regarded as a green leader under the gaze of the centre-right Christian Democrats, while former conservative Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende was a vocal supporter of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and climate change action. Portugal’s right-wing government under Pedro Passos Coelho oversaw a country that produced 63% of its electricity from renewable energy in 2014.

The economic and social necessity of environmental legislative reform has become illuminated for political parties across the entire spectrum worldwide.

In Australia, we are stuck in the mud by thinking climate change and ecological disintegration is a left v right issue, while many of our friends in Europe have left this trope long behind. Instead of seeing environmental policy as a wedge issue and as a weapon with which to fight a culture war, international conservative parties are using environmental policy to win over voters, a strategy that statistics show could pay dividends for the Coalition government if it were to dare.

A Lowy Institute poll in June revealed that 59% of respondents agreed that climate change was a “serious and pressing problem” and that they wanted to see change “even if this involves significant costs”.

International consumer group SumOfUs recently found that 72% of Liberal voters believed that the Coalition government should be doing more to address plastic pollution.

However, such a pivot from the LNP seems unlikely while the likes of Eric Abetz, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce have sway within the ranks of the parliamentary Liberal and National parties.

The presence of these hard-right types, coupled with the toxic status quo forged by the last 11 years of climate wars, means the party of Menzies is likely to ignore environmental policy reform.

Follow Stefan on Twitter at @Stefan_Boscia.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey