Creating policy is both an art and a science. The politics around climate change makes this especially true of anything touching energy or climate policy. It is difficult for governments to strike the right balances – between evidence-based analysis and public and political desires; between timeliness and inclusiveness of process; between transparency and secrecy.

Yet, it is on complex issues like climate change, that striking the balance between engagement, evidence and timeliness is most important; where governments have to earn and maintain the public trust necessary to resolve these long term, intractable challenges.

There is a real time example happening in Australia where that seems to be going in the right direction. There may be good lessons for Canada within it.

Australia has, since the year 2000, legally required purchasers of wholesale electricity (mainly electricity retailers) to provide a specified amount of electricity from renewable sources, or else pay a 65 A$ penalty for each megawatt hour they are short. Known as the ,a href="'>Renewal Energy Target (RET), the scheme had an initial target of 9500 gigawatts hours (GWh) of annual renewable energy production, which has since been raised to 45,000 GWh.

Since RET requirement came into law, the Australian national and state governments have added additional policy and legislative measures to stimulate renewable energy expansion, including a carbon price, various state-level feed in tariff programs, and a political target of achieving 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Reasonably, this accumulation of policies has caused the Australian Government to ask itself whether the suite of policies, collectively aimed at stimulating renewable energy production, are working well together. Are they complementary and properly aligned to their intended purposes; are they achieving the desired outcome?

In August, the Australian Climate Change Authority released a public consultation document for the Renewable Energy Target Review. In it, the Climate Change Authority gives a comprehensive overview of the RET and the other renewable energy policy measures that have been put in place at the national and state level. It invites public comments on 39 questions related to all aspects of the scheme. While there appears to be no public sessions related to the review, 158 written submissions have been received as of the deadline for public comment.

At the same time, the Climate Change Authority has commissioned economic modelling to predict the impact of continuing with both the RET and the carbon tax or with only one of the two. Although there are legitimate criticisms of economic modelling – it is imprecise, it is based on impossible to prove assumptions – it is the best system we have for predicting our economic (and environmental) future under varying scenarios. The Australian government has said it will make public the results of its modelling and the underlying assumptions upon which the model was based.

The review began in August of this year and is scheduled to be completed by the end of December.

All too often these days, we are seeing governments being accused of taking the easy way out on tough policy debates – letting themselves get lost in endless process; or failing to allow evidence to properly inform policy choices for fear that this would contradict their desired political direction; or not engaging the public because this transparency could unearthing tricky political misalignment.

What the Australian government will do with the review is anyone’s guess and there is no doubt there will be no consensus on the correct path forward, but they seem to be doing many of the right things to make as close to the “right” decision as can be made on these difficult policy questions.


  • Authority models emissions without RET - Sydney Morning Herald
  • Australian Government Climate Change Authority