Warren Mabee is director, Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy
Across Canada, there seems to be equal parts of rejoice and despair. In some camps, happiness that Canada has finally pulled out of the Kyoto Accord; in others, anger that our country has given up what was, to be fair, mostly lip service to ever more unreachable goals.
Our country is a horrible polluter on a per capita basis - maybe the worst - but a very small piece of the global problem, accounting for only about 2 per cent of global emissions. The Kyoto Protocol (and its successor, should we get that far) may be the world’s best hope of turning the corner on greenhouse gas emissions, but meeting the challenges of the Kyoto Protocol means greatly reducing our emissions, which are ever more associated with the production of energy for somebody else’s use. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. Many Canadians would agree that the Harper government has done the right thing to take us out of the game.
But what next?
Our economy is becoming ever more dependent upon the riches of the oilsands and other energy products - for the most part fossil resources. Ignore the pollution aspect: ‘fossil’ means that these are term limited opportunities, and ultimately, either we’ll run out or the world will decide that it doesn’t want them anymore (the ethical soundness of the product notwithstanding). The latter option is much more likely. California has passed a low-carbon fuel standard which might keep Canadian oilsands product out of the state, and other jurisdictions may follow. The battle in the USA over the Keystone Pipeline is only ostensibly about the potential pollution of the Ogalalla Aquifer - to a large extent, it’s been an opportunity for American lobbyists and voters to fight the oil sands development. They are speaking, in large enough numbers that the President is listening. Even Europe, in the midst of facing economic challenges that are frightening in the very least, has denounced the oil sands. Disturbingly, in many cases our governments seem to be caught by surprise by these decisions. I think that, Kyoto Protocol or no, Canada still needs a sustainable development plan - preferably in three parts:
Innovation in the energy patch: Want innovation that will pay off in the long term? Slap a renewable energy mandate on the power and fuel required to access and utilize new fossil energy resources across our country. Start it low, but ramp it up over time so that significant amounts of new capacity can be built in Canada. (A slower start would also ensure that we get better technologies at better prices, since prices come down…fast. See what’s happening in Ontario right now with solar power). In the short term, such a measure will make the developers of oilsands and shale gas look greener, which wouldn’t hurt potential sales - particularly in the USA. Over time, this will create the backbone of a sustainable energy supply that will supply our nation when the oil and gas boom ends. While the provinces decide how renewable energy is developed from year to year, the federal government could look at ways to support research and innovation in a coordinated fashion - they already have some of the tools in the Networks of Centres of Excellence program and the Research Councils.
Reduce the average Canadian footprint: Want to reduce Canadian emissions? Try giving municipalities some real tools (read money) for planning and development. Forget the one-tonne challenge and the idea that a few individual choices can make dramatic reductions in our emissions. Most Canadians are urbanites, and most don’t have many options when it comes to where they can find work, where they can afford to live, and how they can travel over the increasing distances between those two points. To truly reduce the emissions generated by the average Canadian, you need to create the options for a greener lifestyle. That means better homes, transit, and of course…
Better and greener jobs: Want a jobs strategy? Instead of writing a greenhouse gas strategy - which on its own is more about curtailing growth than creating new jobs - let’s write a sustainable development plan focused on people. There are many ideas for these types of strategies, which can put us on the path to a more sustainable economy, with more renewable energy options, and with a smaller per capita footprint. What’s greener or more sustainable than people?