Australia: Where climate change can bring down a prime minister

It’s often said of climate change that it won’t be a major priority for governments until politicians are afraid of being voted out of office over it. Well that (sort of) just happened in Australia, where the ruling Labor Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. It’s been a precipitous fall for Rudd, who ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

It's often said of climate change that it won't be a major priority for governments until politicians are afraid of being voted out of office over it. Well that (sort of) just happened in Australia, where the ruling Labor Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. It's been a precipitous fall for Rudd, who began this year as one of the most popular leaders in his country's history, but now hold the dubious honor of being the only postwar Australian prime minister voted out after less than one term. 

There were a number of missteps along the way, but Rudd, who described climate change as "the greatest moral challenge of our generation," abandoned his trademark carbon-trading scheme and backed down on a new mining tax. Rudd was never particularly popular within his own party, and when his public popularity began to slip, it was only a matter of time before he got the ax. 

New Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- the first woman to ever hold the job -- has already promised to pursue both carbon trading and the mining tax. Australia, heavily reliant on coal and one of the world's highest emitters per capita, still has a long way to go. But it has to be encouraging to environmentalists that the country's voters seem to be holding leaders accountable for their green talk. 

It’s often said of climate change that it won’t be a major priority for governments until politicians are afraid of being voted out of office over it. Well that (sort of) just happened in Australia, where the ruling Labor Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. It’s been a precipitous fall for Rudd, who began this year as one of the most popular leaders in his country’s history, but now hold the dubious honor of being the only postwar Australian prime minister voted out after less than one term. 

There were a number of missteps along the way, but Rudd, who described climate change as "the greatest moral challenge of our generation," abandoned his trademark carbon-trading scheme and backed down on a new mining tax. Rudd was never particularly popular within his own party, and when his public popularity began to slip, it was only a matter of time before he got the ax. 

New Prime Minister Julia Gillard — the first woman to ever hold the job — has already promised to pursue both carbon trading and the mining tax. Australia, heavily reliant on coal and one of the world’s highest emitters per capita, still has a long way to go. But it has to be encouraging to environmentalists that the country’s voters seem to be holding leaders accountable for their green talk. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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