GAO – Grandchildren Accountability Office
The 2022 federal election in Australia was a remarkable event. More than remarkable, I would say it was historic.
This year the people of Australia changed their path concerning climate accountability. Incumbent prime minister Scott Morrison suffered a party-shaking loss, and Anthony Albanese, leader of the Labour Party, stepped into the role. The losses were staggering for the Liberals, but the gains did not all go to Labour. Many of the seats went to independent and Green Party candidates.
The independents were the most exciting group by far. A group of proven, capable, and ethics-focused women campaigned on a platform of climate action and government accountability. Calling themselves Teal candidates, a colour based on the mix of blue from the Labour Party and Green for the environment, they defined a new political affiliation. But it wasn’t noteworthy just that these independents were women taking deep conservative ridings. It was special because the balance of power had shifted. The independents that won have effectively turned the focus from dirty politics of the past to one based on ethics, action and accountability.
Proof that this is what the electorate wanted was in the results. Six climate and ethics-focused candidates took over long-held conservative ridings. The independents campaigning in more than 20 seats total were characterised as teals. The Greens also increased seats by more than 50%. In a country with largely so-called “traditional” values, where only two major parties have ever had success, the establishment simply didn’t anticipate these results. Both major parties were rocked and are now looking within, but will politics in Australia ever go back to normal without a significant revamp of existing party platforms? How long will it take for party leaders and influencers to realize this is the new normal? The people voted for climate, ethics and accountability; they demand it.
The world needs Australia’s help. It would be very difficult for us to fully address climate without Aus stepping up and doing the right thing. They are so important because their economy is deeply entrenched in fossil fuel production and we simply do not have time to pander to special (fossil fuel) interests any longer. It is a vast economy with enormous impacts, and it will take time to transition.
In comparison, there are other more nimble competitors in the international game of focus on climate. In 2015 after the world adopted COP21 SDGs, most countries made real efforts to meet their goals, while others chose to litigate, obfuscate and stall (see Scott Morrison’s Liberals and their legacy).
Others, one country, in particular, that took the SDGs to heart are now beginning to see the effects of early climate action. Wales might now be the world leader in sustainability at the national level, and it is all down to a shift in thinking, one new law, and one strong new hire. The Well-being of Future Generations Act of 2015 requires all public bodies in Wales to view the long-term impact of their decisions through a lens of “will this benefit or harm future unborn generations.”
All government-funded major public works, or spending, any building or infrastructure project must be filtered through this lens as defined on the website:
“The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities, and each other, and prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities, and climate change.”
It is effectively a Grandchildren Accountability Office, created to ensure citizens not yet born have a healthy world to live in. Think globally, act locally.
The first big project to obtain this scrutiny was a major highway construction project in Wales. The project was so big that it would have used all of the country’s borrowing capacity to build and then hamstring future generations with debt servicing.
All on one project. To build a road!
When Future Generation’s Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe scrutinized it through the lens of “will it benefit future generations,” there was no way that the £1.4 billion was a good spend. It benefitted only current car owners while at the same time discouraging walking, cycling, and the use of public transit. Ultimately, it would negatively affect public health by lowering local air quality and hamper UN climate SDG efforts by increasing carbon emissions.
Instead, the focus shifted, and multiple government organizations worked together to define what the project should entail and how best to achieve it. Public health, parks, culture, and many others all had a say. Ultimately, the road project was cancelled, and an investment in public and self-propelled transit and EV infrastructure was selected (at a far lower cost). There is now even a moratorium on any highway expansion for the foreseeable future. The revised project provides increased health effects to benefit all, but most important for local society is that it helps the poor, those at most significant risk of pollution-related illness.
You might think that a person in the role of commissioner for future generations would be a target for all kinds of dirty politics, but in Wales, the opposite has been true. Do not doubt that Ms. Howe is smart, tough and confident, especially considering her CV, but historically when a decision between economics and the environment was made, economics always won. However, even the politicians arguing a case against protecting the environment are people with families and grandkids. They don’t want to end up on the wrong side of history. They do it because they feel they must; for political party lines, or because of money, power and influence. They represent the people but in reality are beholden to lobbyists, other influences, and powerful forces. They do it for their reasons, and now they have an out—a way to assuage their tired consciences.
With ethics and accountability as a cornerstone of all public spending, Wales is being transformed into a truly healthy society. One where environment, public health, and societal wellbeing have equal, if not greater importance, than simply GDP.
A couple of years ago, I spoke about how the rise of young female climate leaders is one of the top trends to watch, and it is now happening at higher and higher levels of government. With every year these ethics-focussed people gain confidence, influence and power. I look forward to more Teal Party candidates taking seats, regardless of where they may be.
To Australia, I say welcome back to the table. To Teal and Green candidates everywhere, I thank you for your dedication, to Wales, I say congratulations for making real positive change, and to Ms. Howe, thank you for showing the rest of us how it is done.