Annette Verschuren is CEO of Ontario-based energy storage firm NRStor and a native Cape Bretoner. Derek Evans is CEO of Calgary-based oil producer MEG Energy.
Canadians just suffered through a nasty and divisive election campaign that may have driven our country to the brink of a national unity crisis. At the centre of that crisis is a debate over the future of our shared natural resources.
The discussion has been unfairly reduced to two camps – Canadians who support the development of fossil fuels and those who believe in climate change. That black-and-white scenario has opened up a schism between the oil-producing West and the rest of Canada.
With the election behind us, we all need to look forward and work together to help us find solutions to address climate change.
As authors of this article, we’re from opposite ends of the country and our companies focus on different forms of energy development – one in clean tech, one in fossil fuels. We both believe it’s imperative to bring Canadians together with workable solutions that maintain prosperity while addressing the very real threat of climate change.
There are many Canadians across the political spectrum who want to talk about our energy future, but don’t share the black or white extreme views. It’s possible for a Canadian to belong to any one of our political parties and believe in climate change, want the country to prioritize a transition off fossil fuels, but understand they still need oil as the industry figures out how to transition to renewables in an economically viable manner.
We need to progress beyond “either/or” to an “and” conversation when it comes to energy transition.
To get there, we require solutions that maintain and even build our energy economy. It’s not just about Alberta or the West – the energy sector is nearly one-10th of our national economy. It provides nearly a million direct and indirect jobs and provides important funding for social infrastructure, including education and health care. Canada is a net exporter of energy and a petroleum superpower – one of just two reliable, safe and democratic countries with reserves to facilitate a realistic transition to a low-carbon energy future.
If you are an advocate of keeping our oil in the ground to prevent climate change, it’s important to recognize that we can’t just turn off the taps, as some have suggested. If oil production were shut down in Canada, we’d have to import from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria and other countries that do not have anything near to our environmental or social regulations.
This is where the “and” conversation comes in. While we both believe we should continue to produce Canadian oil and gas as we transition, we also know we need to be simultaneously working on solutions, both renewable and hydro-carbon, that give us a leadership position to address the fight against climate change.
Many Canadian energy companies have already made great progress in prioritizing the environment. Some of us in the industry are committed to bold steps – to being not just cleaner, but to being clean. Net-zero emitters. If the Canadian industry is going to brand itself as the ethical alternative, that’s a must.
The world is making the transition to cleaner energy, so why not be a leader? Why not develop Canadian expertise, deploy these technologies and share them with the rest of the world? We believe clean tech will be a $2.5-trillion global market by 2022.
Canada already punches above its weight with 12 of the top 100 clean-tech firms developed here, including Opus One Solutions Energy Corp., which increases efficiencies on electrical grids; Metamaterial Technologies Inc., a smart materials company; and CarbonCure Technologies Inc., which captures CO2 from the atmosphere to improve the manufacturing process of concrete. And of the $1.4-billion in clean-tech annual investments in Canada, 75 per cent of it comes from our oil and natural gas industry, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The path forward to reducing environmental effects while preserving the Canadian economy will become clear when we are able to take the emotion and fear out of the energy conversation. Fear paralyzes the ability to move forward and get to the heart of real solutions.
We also need to own a certain amount of responsibility for personal contributions to climate change. It’s a complex global problem where technology (be it advancing renewables or net-zero goals for hydrocarbon producers) only deals with 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The other 80 per cent is driven by human activity and consumption, with 28 per cent of our emissions coming from transportation alone.
Industries and local utilities need to step up with large-scale solutions to diversify energy use, reduce peak power needs and slash emissions. As individuals, we must also consider how much personal comfort we are willing to sacrifice to do our part.
And our governments, at all levels, need to fight for the right policies to make it happen. Our representatives ought to submit to the same self-examination they demand of industry. They ought to spend the political capital to develop agile regulations, expand public and private clean-tech procurement, and create green incentives in the oil sands. They need to help accelerate energy storage incentives in our utilities and create fuel efficiency standards for our highways.
Most of all, as Canadians, we need the maturity to accept that there are two imperatives that require two solutions, even if we might personally consider one more important. We can’t ignore climate change and we can’t just turn off the fossil fuel taps.
The sooner we all understand that, the sooner we can start bridging the gap that currently divides us. Canada may just depend on it.
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