When Mark O'Toole's garlic farm in Lismore sinks further and further in flood water, he just manages to save his 79-year-old neighbor from the floods. "When I arrived, the back door flew open and the river rushed through her house. She was lying on her bed, which was turning in the water," the 54-year-old tells the German Press Agency. Then the two endure in a boat with O'Toole's son and two other neighbors - three and a half days without drinking water or food. Then comes the dangerous rescue by military helicopter, which can be seen live on Australian television.
"Since then we've basically been couchsurfers," says O'Toole. It's been six months since the floods that hit the small town of Lismore, in the state of New South Wales, and numerous other areas on the east coast - but many people are still without a permanent home or sleeping in moldy and moldy houses that are in danger of collapsing. As the climate crisis progresses, Australia has to expect more and more extreme weather and natural disasters like this one.
Legal basis for the fight against global warming
The new Labor government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, which has been in office since May, wants to tackle the crisis after years of hesitation by the previous conservative government. Albanese had already promised this during the election campaign. On Thursday, after the House of Representatives, the Senate also voted in favor of a climate protection law - the first in the country's history. Effective immediately, it legally defines the goals in the fight against global warming. Such a law has existed in Germany since 2019.
"It's a start," says Howard Bamsey of the German Press Agency. The honorary professor at the Australian National University with a focus on climate policy considers the new law to be "credible", Australia is now moving globally in the "mainstream area" in terms of climate goals, according to the expert.
The key point of the text is the reduction of CO2 emissions by 43 percent by 2030 compared to 2005. But many do not consider this ambitious enough. "It's important that the law makes it clear that there is still room for improvement," says Bamsey. "I think everyone knows that if we are going to fight climate change effectively, we have to do a lot more."
The Greens had spoken out in Parliament in favor of raising the target to 75 percent by 2030. The Labor government refused. However, a note in the revised legal text makes it clear that the reduction in greenhouse gases by 43 percent should be understood as a minimum. By 2050, Australia wants to be completely emission-free.
For comparison: Germany is more ambitious and tightened its climate law again last year. Germany wants to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 and reduce its emissions target by at least 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.
After all, Australia's law stipulates that climate minister Chris Bowen submits an annual report on the progress made towards climate neutrality. Because how much nature and people suffer has not only been made clear once again by the floods on the east coast. The so-called "Black Summer" mega fire of 2019/2020 has literally burned itself into national memory. An area of 143,000 square kilometers and more than 3000 buildings fell victim to the flames. According to the WWF, three billion animals were killed or displaced in the inferno. Heartbreaking images of koalas with burned paws went viral.
A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from February 2022 assumes that Australia will be hit by devastating natural events even more frequently in the future. Hotter weather, more dangerous fires, more droughts and floods, higher sea levels and drier winters are to be expected. In addition to the direct consequences for people, animals and infrastructure, agriculture is particularly affected. Should parched fields and lack of water reduce harvests, food crises can ensue.
The previous government of Scott Morrison wanted nothing to do with this for a long time and was also criticized internationally for its passivity in climate policy: In a government paper intended to explain Australia's path to climate neutrality at the end of 2021, experts primarily saw the interests of the climate-damaging coal industry protected.
Is the law effective?
At the UN climate conference in Glasgow last year, the Morrison government also refrained from signing an agreement to reduce methane emissions - for fear of endangering the coal industry. However, the new prime minister does not want to stop fossil fuel projects for the time being because he believes this would have "devastating effects on the Australian economy". Australia was the world's largest coal exporter in 2021.
Lower emissions but sticking to coal: So how effective is Australia's new climate law really? "Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were miraculously stopped tomorrow, we know that the world would continue to warm," says climate expert Bamsey. Like many other experts, he does not believe that the red continent can get its extreme weather events under control with the climate law. Instead, he fears more disasters.
Like Mark O'Toole of Lismore, tens of thousands have lost everything in the floods. A climate law will not help them in this emergency. Many have no money, their houses and properties are no longer worth anything, and moving away is not an option either. "Everyone is very angry," says the farmer. The aid money is slow to come and not enough to completely renovate houses. Also - climate law or not - it is not clear how the next catastrophe is to be prevented: "Nobody knows. Nobody knows what we should do."