Provinces Should Think Beyond Pipelines

Last week Harvard professor Robert Stavins found a lot to like in the Pacific Coast Climate Action Plan, a new pact that seeks to harmonize carbon pricing and clean energy policies between British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California.

“The most promising path forward on international climate change policy at present is bottom-up development of regional, national and subnational policies that become linked,”said Stavins, who directs the university’s Environmental Economics Program. His words echoed those of the Governor of California who, in signing the Action Plan last month, promised those present that “this thing is going to spread.”

Cue the Council of the Federation — scheduled to meet Friday in Toronto. In fits and starts for the past 18 months, the alliance of provincial and territorial leaders has been thrashing out the details of a Canadian energy strategy.

From day one, Alberta’s keen interest in oilsands pipelines has driven the premiers’ deliberations. And to be sure, any cross-provincial energy strategy must address all forms of energy distribution, including liquid fuels. But at its core, any such plan should serve to transition the nation to a lower carbon economy, and ensure we compete in the growing global market for low-carbon products and services.

Alas, we’re seeing troubling signals that the strategy may ultimately begin and end with long tubes of welded steel. Such an outcome would prove a strategic blunder of epic proportions. As the Philippines endure the aftermath of the largest tropical storm ever to make landfall — and as nations such as China make moves to establish carbon pricing — this is not the time to double down on fossil fuels.

As the Pacific Coast Action Plan suggests, clusters of states and provinces — as well as alliances between cities such as Vancouver, Chicago, and Toronto — are not just aligning but fully integrating their efforts to address climate change while efficiently delivering their citizens vital energy services such as heat, power and mobility.

The Pacific Coast Action Plan commits the leaders to collective action on a diverse range of carbon programs and policies including low-carbon fuel standards, and sets new targets for electric vehicles, net-zero buildings and more.

These sub-national agreements aren’t small change. The Pacific Coast example collectively represents 53 million people, a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion, and 670 million collective tonnes of annual carbon pollution. To put this in perspective, that’s more people, a larger economy, and almost as much carbon pollution as all of Canada.

A Harris Decima poll, conducted this past summer, suggests that Canadians get it. Asked to prioritize a series of objectives for a Canadian energy strategy, they identified as a “top” or “high” priority “improving energy efficiency” (80 percent), “creating more jobs in clean energy” (73 percent), “reducing Canada’s carbon pollution to slow down climate change” (67 percent), and “reducing our reliance on fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal” (61 percent).

If a Canadian energy strategy is to live up to both its name and its promise, it needs to be about more than oil and gas pipelines. It needs to slash carbon pollution, help us realize our clean energy potential, and empower Canadian businesses to compete in a global low-carbon marketplace that is already north of $1 trillion.

If a collection of states can link up with one province with a bold plan to address carbon pricing, electric vehicles, high-efficiency buildings, and low-carbon fuels, why can’t the Council of Federation follow suit and come up with a plan for our energy future that is about much more than moving oil and gas from A to B?

This post first appeared in the Huffington Post.
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