Modernising democracy and internationalism: a response to climate change

The possibilities of democracy presents an opportunity to address the greatest social, economic and environmental challenge we face: climate change.  And while rhetoric is easy and words are cheap, it is political leadership that remains the greatest driver of substantive reform. 

The idea works like this.  A referenda would be held to determine each Australian’s willingness to contribute to tackling climate change and the amount they wish to contribute.  This would be enforced at a national scale. 

An expansion over the fold. 

The process could work like this:

  • All sides of politics, by recognising the importance of climate change, would commit to a bi-partisan process (so as to remove party political influences).  This would involve agreeing to a set process and committing not to polarise dissent (or refer to the initiative in a party political inference) from the point following agreement;
  • A referenda is planned with a number of agreed options.  A marketing campaign to communicate the science of climate change would follow.  Interest groups would be free to communicate a persuasive argument (separate from established scientific fact determined independently);
  • The referenda would present a number of options reflecting structures of individual financial contributions, say, for example, percentages linked to a gross income and considerations of different tax structures and government assistance payments.  For example, there might be three different options: (1) 0.5% of gross income per annum, (2) 2% of gross income pa (3) 4% of gross income pa (plus considerations noted above);
  • The primary choice would impact upon all Australians, and would be an amount taxed and placed separately to an entity independent from Government.  The referenda would be purely about mobilising in a collective form the goodwill of Australians.  A separate entity would be controlled by a board consisting of various industries, science representatives and environmental groups.  A set criteria established at the outset would guide the entities decisions.  An administrative component of the entity would facilitate its actions. 

Such a referenda would placate a number of existing obstacles.

First, the global political environment is intensely complex.  The penetration of political sentiment into policy substance on an international level is relatively low.  Developed nation-States emphasise the importance of under-developed States to reform.  A response from under-developed States is to emphasise the fact that developed States have prospered from circumstances that have directly led to global warming.  If a referenda were to produce a significant outcome in terms of financial resources then this could pave the way for other nation-States to commit significant resources.  Australia could alleviate the complex global-political tensions through example.       

Second, removing party political influence would ensure broad political consensus.  Such a process would cement principles of leadership free in an absolute sense from any form of populist influence.  Domestic politics in democratic systems appear to be balancing the party-political flagship of economic superiority with the reform required to adequately address climate change.  A commitment to substantive reform in a bi-partisan way would negate these tensions.  

Further, if the independent entity is set-up in a way independent from Government, and independent from the political process then there may be ways of detaching it from the political cycle itself.  For example, political parties at the point of bi-partisan agreement may agree to refrain from linking the referenda to their own party-political credentials, or to themselves.  In this way, there would be existing pressure on political parties to perform in relation to their environmental policies in the ordinary electoral cycle.       

Third, individual aspirations to commit to climate change might occur through national sentiment in a positive way.  Individuals might be influenced by the same dynamic identified in the first point.  Specifically, an individual might be willing to commit their own resources but would be dissuaded by the fact that there are many other Australians more privileged and wealthy who have not committed anything.  Mandating a national structure would alleviate these tensions.  If it is done equitably then individual sentiment can be mobilised using a positive form of nationalism.  If the referenda were to be enforced with a number of years notice then individuals and families could prepare.   

Such a referenda would have profound implications for our economy and I don’t profess to apply economic knowledge.  However, it appears the science of climate change indicates established significant risks for our economy, geo-political relationships, health, et cetera, et cetera.  Perhaps in-depth and properly funded research might analysise the cost-benefits of such a referenda and other significant options.

Neutralising the risks posed by climate change may well be achieved by the intensity of current political debate, but the gap between substantive policy reform and reform required on the part of science appears to be too great.  Political leadership is pivotal. 


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