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Australia's "climate wars" are spilling into the streets

Australian climate protesters and police
Climate change protesters link arms as they attempt to blockade the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) being held in Melbourne on October 29, 2019. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Australians are becoming increasingly frustrated with the conservative government's inaction toward climate change, and it's pushing many to take to the streets for some of the largest protests the country has ever seen, reports the New York Times.

Why it matters: The Australian government is struggling to keep its promise to reduce its carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement as politicians continue to lobby in favor of the coal industry. For some lawmakers, "defending coal has come to be equated with defending the country," according to the Times.

  • Polls show that Australians feel strongly about climate change across all age groups and political backgrounds.
  • 81% of Australians are "concerned that climate change will result in more droughts and flooding," according to a September survey by The Australia Institute.

The state of play: Disruptive climate protests are becoming more common in Australia. While many countries are willing to let climate protests occur, Australia's government is actively trying to stop them, according to the Times.

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government should ban "indulgent and selfish" environmental groups from rallying and boycotting businesses. His statements have sparked worry in both the scientific community and among free speech advocates, per the Times.
  • The Australian government passed a law last year that allows the military to break up any protests.
  • Police have previously used pepper spray against mining protesters, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Most recently, climate protesters tried to block entrances at Australia's largest mining conference in Melbourne on Oct. 29, 2019, per ABC. They clashed with the police, leading to the arrest of 47 protesters. Several protesters and four officers were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Context: Coal mining by Australia's six biggest mining companies produces more emissions in one year than the rest of the economy, reports the Guardian.

  • A report by Climate Analytics found that if Queensland does not cut its carbon emissions, most of the Great Barrier Reef will be extinct in 12 years, according to ABC.

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