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Why young people should have a seat at the table to plan our energy transition

Attendees at the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation Forums in Canada.

I’ve recently returned from an international clean energy summit in Canada, where young people stood alongside politicians and business leaders proposing solutions to the climate crisis.

I was lucky enough to be Australia’s youth delegate to the summit, known as the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation Forums.

I felt compelled to participate in the summit because I’m wary of Australia’s clean energy policy trajectory. We are speeding towards a climate tipping point, with irreversible consequences for our environment and way of life. The UN believes urgent and unprecedented action is needed but Australian governments are hesitating to tackle it head-on.

Because of this, I decided to commit my career to advancing Australia’s energy transition and went back to university at the age of 25 to pursue a Bachelor of Communication.

I was eager to learn solutions being deployed in other markets to advance renewable energy development and bring these ideas back to Australia.

Young minds from across the world shared the innovations underway in their home countries. We heard how Indigenous communities in Canada are replacing diesel generation with community-owned renewable energy projects, and how in the UK, ethical finance is paving the way for sustainable energy investment.

One youth delegate from Sweden, Simone Mattsson, co-founded ThermoDrone, a startup using drones fitted with infrared cameras to fly over buildings and identify heat losses. These images are later analysed for clients with recommendations on how to reduce their energy bills and lower carbon emissions. Simone, and young people like her, see the world as it is and are not satisfied – they are demanding change, and not waiting for somebody else to do it for them.

Young Indigenous leaders from Canada spoke of how clean energy projects align with their traditional values of working with the earth’s ecosystems. Their government is assisting remote communities to replace expensive, polluting diesel generation with zero emissions solar, wind and hydro systems.

Communities are able to retire decades-old diesel generation, minimising environmental and economic costs while investing in capacity building for the next generation of renewable energy entrepreneurs.

These community-owned renewable energy projects have the additional benefits of boosting local employment and making a meaningful contribution to self-determination for Canada’s First Peoples. Many remote communities in Australia are equally reliant on diesel, and could integrate similar schemes to the people-powered energy transitions underway in Canada.

Work underway in Germany and Spain struck me as fantastic strategies to implement in Australia. Delegates told of their multi-decade transition plans away from coal. Through an open, consultative process involving coal workers and mining companies, Germany and Spain agreed to phase out coal, provide early retirement or facilitate worker re-skilling in cutting-edge green industries and environmental restoration projects.

There are big lessons here for us. Clean energy transition presents a massive challenge to the Australian economic paradigm. But it also presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform and modernise our economy, kick our addiction to fossil fuels, address inequality and create thousands of green jobs in rural Australia. Much like it is doing in Germany and Spain.

The risk of doing nothing is too great, not just for our environment, but for our economy. We must seize this opportunity to reduce our emissions to zero by 2050 to provide opportunity and a precedent of energy transition to the world.

The summit has empowered me to take the learnings from our fellow countries to provide recommendations for Australian businesses and governments looking to advance the clean energy economy in Australia.

Young Australians are crying out for a political and economic system that operates within the earth’s planetary limits. I went to Canada knowing that young people have the ambition to implore leaders to act on our climate emergency.

I emerged confident that young people should not only be part of the conversation but will drive the solutions as well. It’s time to include us in the conversation to design the future of tomorrow.

Tom Hume is an experienced professional in the clean energy sector and is studying a Bachelor of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney. Tom’s travels to Canada were facilitated with the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.


Spinifex is an opinion column open to all our readers. We require 700+ words on issues related to sustainability especially in the built environment and in business. For a more detailed brief please send an email to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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