From the TUC

Climate change – Australia’s employers let the planet down

11 Apr 2009, by in Environment

I am in Australia visiting my sister and her family, and the effect of climate change is evident all around. In Bendigo, Victoria, where she lives, there has been a full-on drought for over a decade. When I first visited over 20 years ago, Victoria was as green as South East England. Now, it is mostly yellow, and some bits of the countryside are beginning to fade to greyness. And yet Australian employers are still holding out against firm action on climate change.

Water shortages have made it impossible for people to water their gardens (some crop irrigation is still allowed), wash their cars, shower without a bucket which catches the ‘grey water’ and is all that keeps domestic plants alive. My sister’s back garden, once grassed over, has actually desertified in the last decade. She has replaced the last few tufts of grass with astroturf.

Reservoirs in Victoria (known as ‘dams’) are now getting steadily lower. The Melbourne Age prints not just a weather forecast, but the level of water in the dams. Today, Melbourne’s water storage facilities have a capacity of 1,773,000 megalitres – but they are only 28.7% full. Up north, the mightly Murray River is now several feet lower than it used to be, with tall banks that used to be under water. It fed a whole region, and now regularly features algae sloops miles long. It appears to be dying.

Australian people live in a developed country. They can cope with climate change at the moment, although the bush fires of last month which killed 179 people are still an obvious reminder that eventually, climate change will affect us all. Australia is clearly better off than many developing countries where climate change has the potential to ‘make poverty permanent’. But Australia ought to be leading the way, with its Labor Government: one of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s key election pledges when he won power was to sign the Kyoto Treaty, and he did it virtually immediately.

But while the Australian trade unions are, like the TUC, demanding green job creation as a way to beat the recession and create a sustainable economy, Australian employers – especially those in the energy and mining sectors – are resisting the Australian Government’s plans for cap and trade, or trying to water them down. UK employers take a more progressive stance, and maybe they can persuade their Australian colleagues to be more progressive, for the planet’s sake.