It is with little regret that I leave the world’s happiest country (Norway) for the world’s most livable city (Melbourne). Oh, the travails of fieldwork. In all seriousness, I thoroughly benefited from the five months I spent in Norway. My time in that Nordic nation provided equal amounts hope and concern over the paradoxical role of major fossil fuel states aspiring to climate leadership. I have a far more sophisticated understanding of Norwegian climate and energy politics than when I arrived back in January.
In Melbourne, I’m based at the University of Melbourne’s Australian-German Climate and Energy College, an interdisciplinary research centre examining the complex challenges associated with climate change. My local supervisor is Professor Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist who has published widely on the ethics and governance of climate change and on the Norway-Australia comparison.
So why am I Down Under? To try and make sense of Australian climate politics, which has baffled most bystanders and has arguably been a major factor in the downfall of two opposition leaders and no less than three Prime Ministers.
Compared to Norway, Canada has much more in common with Australia. Both are largely English-speaking settler cultures, federations, large countries with similar populations, and significant natural resource endowments. Yet the make-up of Australia’s fossil fuel industries and trade orientation are considerably different than Canada.
Coal is King in Australia. The country is the world’s largest exporter of coal and the second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is also home to a considerable amount of energy intensive industries that rely on cheap coal-fired electricity to remain globally competitive. One of the rabbit holes that I am exploring in my fieldwork is about international markets. In terms of climate policy, does it matter where a country sells its fossil fuel products? If you sell your fossil fuels to a country with strong climate policies does it impact the climate policies in your country? I’ve seen some evidence of this in Canada (who sells into the U.S. market) and in Norway (who primarily sells into the European market). Australia’s main markets for its fossil fuels are across South and East Asia: Japan, South Korea, India, China. Obviously, the international political economy in these regions are very different from North America or Europe.
Keeping in mind these factors, I’d like to find out why Australia’s climate policies have differed with those of Canada and especially of Norway. What is it about Australia’s state–society relations that have made national climate policies exceptionally fraught? To do this, I’ll be reading up on the history of resource extraction in Australia, researching the role of the Australian state in shaping its energy sector, and I’ll be speaking with a broad range of people from government, business associations, political parties, labour and environmental organizations who can share their views on Australia’s climate policy. Three months from now, I hope to have a much better understanding of climate politics in this country.
While Norway and Australia may be worlds apart on climate policy, Oslo and Melbourne are widely considered to be among the best coffee cities in the world – although it is as of yet unclear how I can work this fact into my analysis.