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Comparing Australia and Canada in Going Green

Comparing Australia and Canada in Going Green

Of all the countries in the world which Australia is comparable with, arguably Canada is the closest. Yes, New Zealand is the nearby neighbour and one Oz surely shares the closest kinship with, but in terms of comparable history, population size, economies, and national goals, it’s the Great Southern Land and the Great White North (so-called for its abundance of snow and ice) that are by many measures the closest. Ultimately, Australia and Canada are set to serve as two significant ‘middle powers’ in this century, which stand to be strong voices alongside the great powers globally in the international quest to go green.

Accordingly, Australia and Canada can expect to form an even closer bond. Nonetheless, there are also indeed differences between the countries, both in terms of existing assets and challenges, as well as the precise pathways they’re taking to going green. So, let’s now at how Australia and Canada compare and contrast in this area.

The National Outlook Compared

When it comes to the conditions which - on paper - should facilitate a clear-cut drive towards sustainability, Australia and Canada are positioned favourably. Both are stable democracies, with open economies, and impressive science and commercial communities. They’re also countries of immense natural beauty, meaning just as the thought of losing the Great Barrier Reef particularly anguishes Australian hearts, so too does the impact of climate change on Canada’s natural landmarks like Banff National Park harrow Canadian ones.

In some respects Canada - by virtue of its colder climate in many regions - will be better able than Australia to withstand climate change. Indeed, it’s no secret that in some locales an increase in temperature could actually aid in the creation of new conditions which make land more suitable for farming. But, this should not be misunderstood as signifying climate change will be beneficial for Canada - it’s set to cost the nation an astounding amount of money like it will other countries - but simply that some silver linings will potentially emerge, which Canada must ultimately seize upon, given the turbulence that’ll be generated elsewhere domestically by rising global temperatures.

From Australia’s perspective, the future will also be a case of many cons and some pros. Already the impacts of climate change threaten the future of industries like the country’s world-famous wine sector, and historic icons like the Great Ocean Road. Conversely, it’s not expected Australia’s vasts of tracts of desert will become significantly populated during the near future - and this unlikely possibility is becoming even less likely due to climate change. Accordingly, Australia’s deserts are a key piece in Oz’s quest to become a renewable energy superpower, with huge solar installations envisioned to not only be able to provide a self-supply of green energy domestically, but also be a source of major renewable energy export to other nations in Asia.

Ultimately though, when assessing the prospects of Australia and Canada to go green, attention must be given to specific states (AKA provinces) particularly, which have had a huge bearing on the national conversation around it.

The Regional Tensions Across the Great Southern Land and the Great White North

STC Fossil Fuel Industries Image

It’s no secret that the immense influence of the mining and fossil fuel industries in Western Australia - and its longstanding influence on state governments out west - has long been a thorn in the side of leaders elsewhere in Australia who aspire to see the nation speed up in its quest to go green. Yes, it can’t go overlooked that many Western Australians presently rely on jobs in these industries for their livelihood, so such sectors cannot just be ’switched off’ overnight, and proper planning and investment must occur to ensure workers presently pursuing careers in these fields can retrain and transition over to cleaner and greener operations. It’s also equally true though that some stakeholders within and surrounding these industries may now and then give voice to promising language - the kind where they say going green and ending the work of polluting activities is a priority - but then they also take action which clearly signifies their desire to ‘kick the can down the road’ further still, thus maintaining their profits for an undetermined time while the planet continues to heat up.

This experience pertaining to the challenge of one state is something Canadians will be very familiar with. Just as Western Australia’s mining and fossil fuel industries have represented a roadblock to progress in Australia, so too has the province of Alberta in Canada long been a foil for the aspirations of Ottawa to move Canada forward at a national level. An interaction in February between Alberta Premier - the head of government of the state just as a premier in one of Australia’s state governments is - Danielle Smith, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau illustrates this dynamic. Following a February meeting, Premier Smith penned a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau indicating that the province would be prepared to work with the Canadian federal government on endeavours like carbon capture, provided a “non-negotiable” condition is met that the Canadian government will not introduce new laws or regulations that would impact the development of oil and gas resources in Ottawa. It’s no revelation to say that state/provincial governments will want to protect their own industries, and accordingly have their leaders act in a way consistent with that. But, it’s also the case that addressing climate change requires a shared international response - given no single nation however otherwise powerful can solve it alone - and for national governments to develop country-wide responses, in lieu of just allowing sub-national governments to define what’s in the best interests of the nation from their perspective, and thus essentially guaranteeing squabbling and stalling with occur due to infighting.

By no means does stating this reality seek to condemn the citizens of Western Australia nor Alberta (and it’s of course the case mining/fossil fuel operations exist in other parts of these two nations). Indeed, it’s a fact that so many residents of each locale are deeply troubled by the climate crisis, and they feel their voices have been ignored at the state/provincial level by local leaders in favour of tuning into whatever talking points the businesses engaged in big pollution have to say. Yet, it is necessary to note as ultimately when a discussion of Australia and Canada reflects on their lack of greater progress for many years in the quest to go green, it’s a reality that it is not because of a wholesale resistance on the part of the majority of the national populations in these countries. Instead, it’s in no small part because of particular governments in sub-national jurisdictions and their supporters, and their (thus far) successful capacity to frustrate the national government’s agenda in many ways for their own aims.

It’s true in certain instances this trend can go to the other way and be positive - for many years California has commendably been an eco-leader in the United States at the state level even when the federal government in Washington D.C. was dragging its feet on climate change action - but for an existential crisis like climate change that threatens not only entire nations, but the entire planet, it’s certainly not ideal that the best interests of the many in nations like Australia and Canada which are keen to go green, are being undermined by a select few within them.

Australian and Canadian Climate Change Action Policies

With the passage of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act during 2021 by the Trudeau government, Canada has a legislated commitment in place to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. In November 2022, the Albanese government in Australia legislated the net zero commitment for Australia by 2050 the same. While it’s indeed commendable that both countries have put a net zero target into legislation, it is also the case that many green advocates remain critical of these 2050 targets (though this is not just applicable to Australia and Canada, but numerous nations). The fact is in the minds of many, 2050 will be simply too late to finally reach net zero and - even if going by the optimistic perspective that nations will indeed reach net zero some years sooner than the ‘deadline’ of the middle of the century - 2050 is simply not ambitious enough.

Meanwhile, the more immediate goals surrounding 2030 show a slight difference between the two nations. Australia has a legislated target that would see emissions reduce by 43% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. For Canada, the target set is to 40%-45% based upon the same 2005 metric. Ruefully, according to the Climate Action Tracker, Canada’s overall rating in its climate action approach is deemed “Highly Insufficient”. Australia fares a little bit better in this regard, but it’s hardly cause for celebration either, with its overall rating deemed as “Insufficient”.

In turn, there are variables within this dynamic that illustrates the slightly higher grading Australia holds isn’t a case of ‘one way traffic’ in terms of progress. For instance, while Australia and Canada have the same net zero goal of 2050, the Climate Action Tracker rates the comprehensiveness of Australia’s target as poor, whereas Canada’s is average. Overall, when it comes to the journey towards net zero, the progress made by both nations in recent years should be commended - but clearly far more needs to be done.

Where Solar is Shining Strongest

STC Solar Power Solar Panels

Canada’s present energy mix tells the story of a nation in transition. Over 60% of it stems from non-renewable sources, with hydroelectricity accounting for around 25%, and being the largest energy source outside of oil and gas, and renewables (aside from hydro) accounting for less than 5%.  In Australia, fossil fuels continue to be a substantial source of energy generation, with the Australian government holding in 2021 71% of the nation’s energy needs came from them. Yet, 29% of Down Under’s energy needs were met by renewables, which is very positive, especially given this share is only set to grow substantially throughout the 2020s.

Ultimately, while there are certainly areas where Australia and Canada’s progress in going green within their energy mix can take learnings from one another - Australia could welcome having more hydro now as Canada does, whereas Canada could benefit from a higher rate of solar like Australia has - it’s also the case that the countries are set to travel separate paths towards the target of 100% clean energy. For Australia, its future within its energy transition clearly will be found by introducing new solar (and wind) capacity in the mix, as indeed installing more solar is a critical part of any path Australia takes with the ambition to become a solar superpower. In turn, the embrace of solar by Australians is already clear-cut, with the nation held to have the highest rate of solar power per capita in the world. By contrast, for Canada, the capacity for the nation to make a decisive transition away from fossil fuels to a renewable source like solar is more complicated. This doesn’t rule out Canada also having a tremendous uptake of solar altogether in the near future, but likely other energy sources will outpace solar’s growth, at least in the short to medium term.

Going Green from North to South

As detailed at the outset, Australia and Canada have an opportunity to be very significant global voices in the quest to combat climate change. While each nation is essentially on the exact opposite side of the world from one another, meaning the particular challenges they face in their local region are somewhat different - with Australian regional concern about melting ice caps in Antarctica mirrored by Canadian regional concern about melting ice caps in the Arctic - at their best, each country has evidenced a great ability to get landmark changes made at home for the benefit for their citizens, and given courageous support to important endeavours internationally which advance the wider common good in our world. These are tremendous qualities for countries to possess, especially in an era where - even today in 2023 - there continues to be a tiny, yet noticeable strand of climate change denialism present in the public conversation around it, which can undermine the growth of shared understanding, and the ability to advance action within our communities.

Yet ultimately, it’s also true, the greatest steps Australia and Canada could take for the benefit of the other nation, and the wider world, is to pursue more effectively a decisive shift away from mining and fossil fuel operations. Doing so would not only set these countries on the path to a better future economically, but also help steer the global community (including of course these two nations themselves) to better outcomes environmentally. For Australians passionate about this change who want to make a small, but significant contribution to helping Australia go green, reading more about what opportunities are available to contribute to the growth of renewable energy and greater sustainability locally is sure to be time well-spent.

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