When Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election in a landslide, it was heralded as the world’s first climate change election. Three years later, having squandered their mandate, the ALP went to Saturday’s election having tried to bury the issue.

With little clear difference between the offerings of the two major parties, and neither pushing their climate change credentials as a strong point of difference, it was little wonder that climate change didn’t feature strongly in the media coverage of the election campaign.

But with the results almost in, it is clear that climate change once again played a major role in the election, but in a very different way than 2007.

In 2007, the Greens got 7.8% of the primary vote, a disappointing increase of only 0.6% from the previous election. Public concern over climate change was channelled into a vote for Labor – which was promising strong action and a clear alternative to Coalition inaction. But in 2010, with both major parties failing on the issue, the Greens were the only party promising strong and credible action on climate and their vote jumped 3.6% to 11.4%. Of the 5.4% swing against Labor, nearly 70% of it went to the Greens.

The result is a hung Parliament for the first time since 1940 and the clear emergence of the Greens as a third political force in Australia.

It shows that climate change is an issue that can’t be ignored. It can’t be dismissed with a talk-fest, a grab bag of half baked ideas, or pork barrels. Concern over global warming has entered the bedrock of the Australian body politic and politicians ignore it at their peril.

The big question is how the ALP will respond to the climate crisis if they manage to form a minority Government (as appears to be the most likely option)? They were punished for backflipping on the issue and the strong Green vote (not to mention opinion poll after opinion poll) indicates that the public want action.

While the role that climate change played in the electoral success of the independents is open to conjecture, it is interesting to note that all but Bob Katter have been strong and vocal advocates for action on climate change. Tony Windsor has been a strident critic of the coal industry and in 2008 sponsored the Climate Protection Bill in the Parliament, calling for 30% cuts by 2020. Rob Oakeshott has made it clear that climate change is a priority issue for him, and Andrew Wilkie ran as a Greens candidate in NSW and is a strong supporter of climate action.

With independents pushing for action, and the shift to a new Senate in July next year, the ALP would do well to move quickly to make the difficult decisions early in the next term of Government.

They will almost certainly need to abandon the citizens assembly after the near total ridicule it received. It was the wrong idea, on the wrong issue at the wrong time and reflected a serious misreading of the public mood.  Maybe the “New” Julia could announce the “New” climate policy, and jettison the hackneyed rubbish that she ran with during the election campaign?

We are, after all, rapidly running out of time to stop runaway global warming that, according to the latest summary by the Australian Academy of Science, has the potential to increase average global temperatures by up to 7 degrees within our children’s lifetime.  Maybe that’s why so many people steadfastly refuse to allow policians to ignore it?