What the Canadian Energy Strategy says (and doesn’t) about renewable energy and climate change in Canada

On Friday, Canada’s premiers released the Canadian Energy Strategy, a document three years in the making that sets out collaborative goals for Canada’s energy future. The language of climate change action and clean energy development is woven throughout the strategy, but many are saying that it lacks the direction needed to tackle the greatest challenge facing our generation.

The most significant reference to renewables comes in the strategy’s sixth “area of focus”, which encourages provinces to “facilitate the development of renewable, green and/or cleaner energy sources to meet future demand and contribute to environmental goals and priorities.” The strategy explains that grid upgrades and innovation in storage will be necessary to increase the share of renewable energy in the supply mix, but does not explain further how this should happen. The strategy also suggests “market-based mechanisms” for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but again, the details are left vague.

At the same time, the language of the strategy leaves the door open for development of more oil pipelines as well as more fossil fuel development and exports. While there is no explicit mention of oil sands, the strategy refers to the development of safe transmission and transportation networks as well as market diversification, which includes pipeline infrastructure and fossil fuel exports. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has stated, though, that the strategy should not be read as “a license to build pipelines.”

West Cape area wind farm, PEI, oil sands from the sky, Fort McMurray
Left: Wind turbines in PEI, Right: Alberta oil sands development. Image source: “West Cape area Wind Farm” nowin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; “Treeplanting Fort McMurray” by 75878499@N03 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

There has been mixed responses to the strategy from industry organizations, journalists, and environmentalists. Some, such as Andrew Coyne from the Globe and Mail, argue that the strategy does little more than allow provinces to do what they were going to do anyway.

The Canadian Nuclear Association has come out in support of the strategy, calling nuclear the kind of “clean energy” the strategy supports, despite nuclear being given little more than a few footnotes in the document itself. Further, while it is true that nuclear does not produce carbon emissions at the source, uranium mining is very carbon intensive and there is no long-term solution to the storage of nuclear waste.

The Canadian Council on Renewable Energy also supports the strategy’s overarching goals “to support the efficient deployment of renewable energy across Canada” and “to support greater access to affordable, clean, and reliable supplies for all Canadians.” Elisa Obermann, Executive Director of the Marine Renewables Canada, said “The premiers have taken a significant step forward with this deal and we are optimistic that it will provide great direction and support for renewable energy development across the country.”

Some environmental organizations, however, charge that the strategy must do more to set goals to move away from fossil fuels and address climate change in a serious way. A statement from Environmental Defence reads “By lending support to pipelines, the strategy will put Canada further out of step with the rest of the world where climate change is being treated as a serious matter. We in Canada need to come to grips with the fact that it’s practically impossible to grow the tar sands and reduce carbon pollution.”

Similarly, Sarah Petrevan, Senior Policy Advisor at Clean Energy Canada, said in a statement: “In the absence of federal leadership, it’s encouraging that provincial premiers have acknowledged the imperative for comprehensive and quantifiable greenhouse gas reductions. However, this is 2015, and we need to do better. We need deeper reductions, and a clear strategy to deliver them, we hope their work over the next year will yield that.”

The strategy places emphasis on energy literacy amongst Canadians, which is one thing everyone should agree on. Time will tell the nation-wide impact of the strategy, but at the very least, having a unified conversation about the future of energy in Canada is an important first step.

Header image source: Canada’s Premiers tour Muskrat Falls” by govnl is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Categories: Energy Policy
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