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Climate and Environment Emerge as Top Public Concerns Before Canadian, Australian Elections

With federal elections coming up in Canada in October and in Australia in May, opinion polls are identifying climate change—and in Canada, waste reduction, nature conservation, and Indigenous management—as top-tier issues for voters in two of the world’s most stubborn fossil economies.

In a poll released [1] by Ipsos to coincide with Earth Day April 22, climate change and the environment emerged as one of Canadians’ top-five policy issues, with 19% citing it as a leading concern—a four-point increase in six months. Health care, listed by 37% of Canadians, was the top issue, followed by the economy, housing, and taxes. (It would have been beyond Ipsos’ mandate for opinion research to point out what climate hawks know full well—that each of those top four issues is affected, in one or many ways, by the climate crisis.)

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“Reflecting on what Canadians consider to be the most important environmental issues facing Canada, at the top of the list is concern about global warming and climate change (48% in Canada, 37% globally), followed by dealing with the amount of waste we generate (43% in Canada, 34% globally) and air pollution (23% in Canada, 35% globally),” Ipsos reports. “Other issues of relatively higher importance to Canadians include: future energy sources and supplies (23% in Canada, 22% globally), over-packaging of consumer goods (22% in Canada, 15% globally), water pollution (21% in Canada, 25% globally), depletion of natural resources (21% in Canada, 22% globally), and wildlife conservation (20% in Canada, 13% globally).”

The release adds that “the perceived importance of climate change in Canada, with 48% listing it among their top-three environmental issues, is well above the global average of 37%. In fact, Canada trails only those in Japan (52%), Spain (51%) and Germany (50%) in relative importance of climate change,” and is on par with respondents in South Korea, the United States, and France.

Just days after the Ipsos release, Abacus Data reported [3] that 86% of Canadians support or strongly support nature conservation efforts, based on a survey it conducted for the International Boreal Forest Campaign. “Almost all Canadians support conserving more of Canada’s natural spaces in principle, feeling that clean water and air, protecting the land for future generations, and dealing with climate change are the more important reasons why conservation is important,” the agency states. The sentiment crosses all demographics and regions, with province-by-province support ranging from 79% in Alberta to 88% in Ontario.

Abacus found that 87% supported or strongly supported Canada’s 2010 commitment to conserve 17% of the country’s land and freshwater, 94% supported conserving more of the boreal forest as a carbon sink, 78% supported creation of Indigenous protected areas, and 58% declared themselves disappointed and 11% angry that the country has protected a smaller proportion of its land mass than others.

“Conservation unites Canadians,” said Abacus CEO David Coletto. “It’s rare to see this kind of consensus on issues, but people overwhelmingly agree the country should do more to conserve nature. They want leaders to work together here at home and internationally. And they want to empower Indigenous communities to manage the lands they know so well.”

Meanwhile, a group of 100 climate scientists, environmental campaigners, business owners, and corporate executives released an open letter urging Canadians to treat climate change—including issues and solutions that go beyond a perpetual carbon tax debate—as their top issue in the campaign. “Those behind the letter fear important discussions about climate change are being lost in the sea of political rhetoric for or against a national carbon price,” The Canadian Press reports.

“It’s a national emergency,” said Clean50 Executive Director Gavin Pitchford, but “I’m concerned there is an awful lot of misinformation being promulgated by various political parties to suggest that climate doesn’t matter.”

Elsewhere, a first-of-its-kind poll by the Australia Institute found clear majorities expressing serious concern about climate change and calling for decisive action, just under a month before national elections May 18. Nearly 60% agreed that “Australia is facing a climate change emergency and should take emergency action”, and more than half said governments should “mobilize all of society to tackle climate change, like they mobilized everyone during the world wars”.

“It is an extraordinary finding that shows public sentiment is well ahead of the major political parties, and ahead of the large climate advocacy organisations,” Climate Code Red reports [4]. The survey “found majority support, and across the political parties, for a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy, a national program to switch to an electrically-charged transport system, stopping any more native forest logging, and a large, publicly-funded research program into zero-carbon industry and agriculture.”

There was clear but less overwhelming support for a ban on new coal mines and exploration for new of coal, oil, and gas, deposits, with more division based on political affiliation.

The 29% of Australians who rated environment (including climate) their top issue represented a “massive shift” from 9% in 2016, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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