Some Canadian jurisdictions have shown leadership on the low-carbon transition. For example, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta have carbon-pricing regimens, Ontario has the Green Energy and Economy Act, and Nova Scotia has a community feed-in-tariff program. Meanwhile, Manitoba and New Brunswick have been recognized as national leaders on energy efficiency.
However, Canada as a whole must do more to accelerate the transition from the economy we have today to the economy we want and need tomorrow. To this end, a Canadian energy strategy, if moved forward with the right objectives, principles and priorities, could be an effective tool to accelerate Canada’s energy transition.
The millions of Canadians who collectively endorsed A New Energy Vision for Canada agreed that any such strategy or framework must meet a series of guiding principles. Following consultations over the past year with a number of organizations working toward a national energy framework for Canada, we have updated these principles, as set out below.
We believe that any energy framework intended to ensure the nation will prosper and remain competitive into the clean energy future must include:
Provide affordable, accessible, reliable, sustainable, and efficient energy services to citizens with minimal risk to future generations;
Jobs and Prosperity
Leverage Canada’s considerable renewable and non-renewable resources to increase our share of the global market for low-carbon goods and services, spurring new jobs, investment, and innovation; and
Climate Change and Environment
Reduce the impacts of climate change by lowering carbon emissions at a pace and at a scale recommended by Canadian and international climate scientists. Protect and restore air, land, and water resources by ensuring rigorous environmental assessments and setting hard limits on cumulative ecosystem impacts.
In addition, leaders are calling for a comprehensive framework for a Canadian energy strategy to ensure that we address all critical and relevant issues, including jobs and prosperity, ecosystem protection–including protection of the boreal forest as a globally significant carbon sink–greenhouse gas reductions, and reducing our energy consumption.
A. Jobs and Low-Carbon Prosperity
The low-carbon economy is the fastest growing employment sector in the developed world.
The right policies can enable a successful transition for workers and communities to long-term sustainable jobs and rewarding careers in the low- carbon sector. These opportunities will also reduce vulnerability of our workforce to the boom-and-bust cycle that characterizes Canada’s present resource economy. Economic modelling has demonstrated strong continued job growth in Canada under a moderate carbon-pricing regimen. We can and must finally end the myth that jobs and the environment are mutually exclusive.
Federal, provincial, and aboriginal governments might direct more resources to workforce development, training, retraining, and education. With focussed policy action, Canada can capture a larger share of the growing trillion-dollar-per-year global market for low-carbon goods and services.
B. Eliminating Energy Waste
Canada enjoys tremendous opportunities to reduce waste and find efficiencies in our energy system. The federal government could serve as a leader and coordinator between other governments on efficiency by setting targets, accelerating product performance standards for efficiency, and stimulating the efficiency market through procurement. Improved performance standards can significantly advance the energy technologies we use in our housing, buildings, communities, industry, electronics, appliances, and transportation systems.
C. Unleashing New Energy Innovation
Drawing from our history and national experience, every major established Canadian sector–oil sands, uranium, auto, aerospace, and communications, among others–reached a globally competitive scale with the significant support of government. The low-carbon goods and services sector is no different.
Governments must support innovation in this sector through a variety of policy mechanisms. These might include a strengthened commitment to Sustainable Development Technology Canada, bridge financing at the pre-commercialization phase, specifying made-in-Canada low-carbon goods and services in procurement policies, and strengthening early- and mid- stage support for startups, among other actions.
D. Greening our Energy Supply
Any Canadian energy strategy must place us on a path to the low-carbon future, but must also seek to steadily reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants associated with electricity and fossil fuel production.
Beyond market mechanisms, regulation can be an effective tool to reduce pollutants. Currently proposed federal coal regulations will not result in reaching the government’s stated goal of 90 percent of all generation being non-emitting by 2020. Provincial actions such as Ontario’s feed-in-tariff presently account for a much larger share of the sector’s projected reductions. This highlights the opportunity for provinces to play an active role in cleaning up electricity production.
Abundant opportunities exist to use regulations to improve environmental performance of unconventional petroleum extraction, such as oil sands and gas extraction, by, for example, minimizing tailings and routine flaring, and pricing and reducing process emissions, and setting hard caps on pollutants. Before any decision is made to approve or deny a proposed pipeline, the project must be assessed with a thorough and objective accounting of social, ecological, and economic risks–including the long-term economic risks presented by the ongoing global shift to clean energy sources.
Canada is blessed with abundant sources of renewable power–hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and wave–but not all of these contribute 24/7 to our grid systems. There is a critical need to lower and remove barriers to the adoption of more renewable energy. One solution would be to increase interprovincial transmission capacity. This would, for example, allow Manitoba hydropower to support intermittent wind energy in Saskatchewan, or B.C. hydropower to backstop wind power in Alberta, or Quebec to supply low-carbon power to the Atlantic provinces. Embarking on a national scheme to build an interprovincial grid–a 21st century equivalent to the Canadian Pacific Railway–would allow Canada to dramatically increase the proportion of its electricity supplied by zero- emissions sources.
E. Fostering Livable Communities
The clean energy transition becomes most tangible as it arrives in Canada’s streets and neighbourhoods. Integrated community energy planning can realize efficiencies across the full range of municipal services while lowering carbon emissions. Through progressive land- use, building, and transportation policies, governments can create complete, compact, resilient, and highly liveable communities that are more competitive in the clean energy economy. This is made possible by planning for the needs of transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians, strengthening building codes, setting targets for retrofits and providing financing support, implementing urban agriculture strategies, using renewable and sustainable fuels, developing district energy systems, and actively promoting and financing sustainable mobility.
F. Forward Motion on Transportation
Canada is a vast nation, and transportation is the source of approximately 27 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. As Canada moves to a low-carbon future, new opportunities will emerge in the business of cleanly and efficiently moving people and cargo to their destinations via land or marine routes.
Through progressive land-use planning, cities can be densified and planned for sustainable transportation modes such as transit and cycling. Electric vehicles, powered by low-impact renewable resources, either privately owned or shared will help many–especially those in communities beyond the reach of transit.
Supportive policy could drive government and industry investment in green transportation research and development. Ultimately, we expect Canada’s surface transportation fleet will be powered by either electricity or non-polluting biofuels, but in the meantime government can drive innovation through the transition by phasing in mandatory fuel efficiency standards on a class-by-class basis.
Further, opportunities abound for advanced biofuels made from sustainably produced Canadian biomass to provide renewable transportation fuels for inter-city freight and eventually aviation. High- speed rail could connect urban cores along heavily trafficked corridors such as Quebec to Toronto and Edmonton to Calgary.
The National Round Table recently identified efficient and low-carbon vehicles–including all types of passenger and freight vehicles–as a sector with tremendous growth potential for domestic manufacturing. Policy action will help unleash this opportunity.
G. Funding the Energy Transition
If Canada is to truly capture the benefits of the clean energy transition, significant public investments will be required. Canada should leverage its wealth of public resources to ensure the nation prospers into a future where leading economies have sharply reduced their dependence on oil.
Pollution has a real cost on our lives, but most polluters are not required to pay a fee for what they put in our atmosphere. Putting an appropriate price on this pollution, or placing a royalty on oil, could help fund
the necessary energy transition in Canada while advancing the public good. A carbon price–already in place in B.C. and Alberta–is a highly effective policy tool to reduce climate change pollution and progressively shift electricity and fuel production toward cleaner alternatives. Canada’s provinces and territories must enact or strengthen carbon-pricing policies in a way that minimizes impacts upon vulnerable Canadians, and directs a portion of revenue toward investments in low-carbon infrastructure or retrofits.
Further, Canada should eliminate any unnecessary public support, subsidy or tax-break for the oil and gas sector, and redirect that support to low- carbon renewable energy innovation and generation.