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The Trudeau Effect: Has Climate Inaction Become An Election-Losing Strategy?

23/10/2015 8:15 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau arrives at a victory rally in Ottawa on October 20, 2015. Canada is 'back' on the world stage, newly-elected prime minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday after a landslide victory that ended nearly a decade of conservative rule. 'I want to say to this country's friends all around the world, many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years,' Trudeau told a rally. 'On behalf of 35 million Canadians, we're back' AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

With the extraordinary victory of Canada's progressive Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau, a new opportunity to carve out meaningful climate goals in Paris may have emerged just in the nick of time. In his first press conference since becoming Prime Minister, Trudeau said he is aware Canada has not played a constructive role in climate negotiations in recent years and promised: "We're back."

Certainly the consensus from Washington is that the new Canadian government will see more eye to eye with the final year of the Obama Administration -- which had viewed the 10-year Conservative rule under Stephen Harper as having been blind to environmental issues.

There was a time when Tony Abbott and former Canadian PM Stephen Harper shared joint press conferences, claiming that they both cared about climate change but would not support measures such as the "job-killing" carbon tax.

The two had been described as the "bad boys" of global climate talks. We now see the results of such an irresponsible approach. Within the past months, both men have been forced from office. Could it be that the global tide of public opinion has firmly spoken?

Although relations with the U.S. are central to Canada's political life, Stephen Harper's relationship with the Obama Administration had become increasingly strained, particularly in relation to the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta tar sands, which was ultimately seen as environmentally untenable by the U.S. Democrats.

One of Trudeau's election pitches had been that the previous government "badly misread" the U.S./Canada relationship in failing to seize opportunities to cooperate on "major issues such as climate change".

Trudeau came into the election promising to bring about a U-turn in Canada's energy policies -- including undoing the former PM's fossil fuel focused energy policies and push for a 'pan-Canadian framework' for combating climate change. This will likely include national carbon pricing and the opportunity to join carbon markets with North America.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ought to take note and avoid similar mistakes. Another election policy of the Canadian Liberal government is to consider greenhouse gas emissions in approving any new oil pipelines and support phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. These policies have extra resonance in Australia today as we contemplate the irresponsible approval of the Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin.

A recent Lowy poll found that if Mr Turnbull or Mr Shorten pledged to take stronger climate targets to Paris they would have the overwhelming weight of support of the Australian population behind them.

The polling showed that 63 percent of Australians now believe the government should commit to significant emissions reductions so other countries will be encouraged to do the same. The same poll also found that 43 percent of Australians now believe solar energy will be the primary energy source in the future, a higher figure than coal.

Unless Mr Turnbull wants to join the climate laggards in the political wasteland of history, he ought to take heed.

As the Lowy poll indicates, Australians are saying loudly and clearly that Australia needs to take stronger action on climate change. Despite a clear call for improvement, Malcolm Turnbull is holding tightly to his Government's inadequate pollution reduction targets that will be taken to the Paris UN climate change conference later this year.

Australians are about to take to the street to make clear the breadth of concern about global warming. Starting November 27 in Melbourne and continuing through the weekend of the 28th and 29th in Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Hobart, Sydney, and Canberra, the People's Climate March will show, just as the citizens of Canada did in their recent election, that leaders avoiding climate action are out of step with the community.

The movement for change is growing by the day and it is broad, committed, inclusive and powerful. All over the world political leaders are being held to account for irresponsible climate policies by a growing community of people who want to see swift decisive action on climate change. The Canadian election provides the latest example.

If the Canadian election result clearly shows one thing, it is that climate inaction has become a losing election strategy, particularly in developed countries with large fossil fuel reserves. It remains to be seen whether Canada's new PM will take the actions he has promised, but all of a sudden the future is looking brighter for climate action.

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