Michael Crothers is the president of Shell Canada
In the wake of a divisive federal election pitting environment against economy, we need a new conversation about energy – a conversation about how Canada can provide energy for citizens, harness our natural resources and do its part to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s what an executive with Shell, a multinational energy company, would say, isn’t it? As a middle-aged, white, male Calgarian, I tick all the boxes for someone a climate activist would dismiss. However, hear me out – in the same way, I continue to listen and learn from the perspectives of others, such as Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg.
What drew me to the energy business is its fundamental importance. Access to affordable energy, produced in an environmentally and socially conscious way, remains one of the greatest opportunities and challenges of our time. I’m proud to work for Shell, where we believe heightened awareness of climate change is a good thing and agree urgent action is needed.
I think Canadians live at the precipice of this challenge in a country blessed with natural resources. What unites us is our shared love of nature and our shared use of energy to move around, to heat and light our homes and manufacture the products we rely on.
However, the recent debate pitted Canadians against each other and led us to believe we can’t have both a strong economy and action on climate change. Discussions left those worried about our climate feeling as though a swath of Western Canada is indifferent to their priorities. Meanwhile, roughly half a million people that work in the energy sector feel abandoned, despite the care for safety and environment they practice on the job.
As a Canadian, it is deeply worrying to see our country mired in divisive regional and parochial arguments instead of working together to solve the climate and energy challenge.
Listening for shared values and finding common ground across the regional and urban-rural divide is a good place to start. Canadians are counting on leaders to show vision and work together across political and sectoral boundaries now more than ever.
Companies such as Shell have a strong understanding of the energy system and unique capabilities to support the energy transition. But our sector must do much more to build trust with Canadians and translate our ambitions into actions.
Shell has publicly stated its ambition to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy products we sell, in step with society as it moves toward the goal of the Paris Agreement. That means fewer greenhouse gases emitted on average with each unit of energy we sell – by around 20 per cent by 2035 and by around half by 2050. Senior executive pay, including my own, is now tied to our ability to meet unconditional interim reduction targets.
From electrification of our natural gas assets in British Columbia, to investments in clean energy technologies and deployment of hydrogen and electric vehicle charging for customers, we are acting. And we are not alone. Our peer companies are also making great strides in reducing emissions.
The complex reality is that climate change is real, and some portion of oil and gas will be needed through the decades-long energy transition. Canadian energy is among the most responsibly produced in the world and is well-positioned to supply Canadian and global customers, so long as we continue to reduce the environmental effects of our energy products.
Another uncomfortable reality is that successfully addressing climate change requires collective action across the energy system – from low carbon investments made by companies, to lifestyle choices made by consumers, and policies to decarbonize economies by governments. It will mean having some uncomfortable conversations and making tough choices.
I believe Canadians have the ingenuity and know-how to develop our resources while advancing environmental protection, reducing the carbon intensity of our energy products, enriching the communities where we live and work, and working respectfully with local citizens and Indigenous peoples, all while generating national and local economic growth. The export of liquefied natural gas from B.C. is a fine example of this.
In a country known for being respectful and kind, let’s start a depoliticized discussion with energy producers and consumers, governments and Indigenous peoples about how to make the energy transition work for the benefit of all Canadians.
Now that’s a conversation I would love to have.
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