According to the latest polls, 69% of respondents considered the environment a "very important issue" with 67% giving the nod to the economy - a fundamental shift in voter opinion that can likely be attributed to Howard's poor record on the environment and, in particular, climate change. "The coalition's climate score remains very low, with its weak 'clean energy' target, its refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol, no target to reduce greenhouse emissions and the promotion of nuclear reactors as a way to deal with climate change," said Denise Boyd, the campaigns director for the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).Australia has consistently lagged other countries in its efforts to take on climate change, topping the global league table of greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis. The ACF gave Howard's administration a score of 21% - a "pretty shabby fail," quips Boyd - on a scale that considered issues of climate, water and other environmental policies; Rudd's Labor Party did significantly better (relatively speaking), achieving a "low pass" score of 56%.
Despite his vocal opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, Howard was previously re-elected with thumping margins in 1998, 2001 and 2004; a confluence of factors - most prominently the country's debilitating 5-year drought - helped turn the public's once benevolent mood sour.
Australians are likely looking at climate change in the long term, says the University of Adelaide's Mike Young, and projecting that further water shortages could severely hamper their country's health and livelihood. While several states in the Southeast and East of the U.S. have been afflicted with severe droughts over the last few months, climate change has yet to resonate as strongly as in Australia. That may all change in the coming years if and when the droughts likely worsen and extend further around the country.
Via ::Financial Times: Howard feels heat over environmental inaction (newspaper), ::Nature: Climate politics: Showdown in a sunburnt country (magazine, subs. required)