In July 2012, the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources released their “Now or Never” report, calling for a National Energy Strategy. Among other emphases, the report prioritized pan-Canadian collaboration, the modernization of energy infrastructure, and the strengthening of innovative energy projects. It is incredibly comprehensive in scope - covering virtually all things energy in Canada.
Curbing climate change, unfortunately, was a mere afterthought; a small derivative of apparently more pressing issues. This is not surprising, given that the report was written by a Senate that voted down the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010.
In the report, the Senate Committee emphasizes the energy sector’s need for public approval (“social license”) to operate. This should mean that energy related policies must reflect the interests of the public at large. But the report has neglected the interests of those concerned with the common good by setting economic growth and job creation as its driving force.
Our energy priorities need to be mediated by wider public approval. Economists are not the only interested party. Indeed, a Harris-Decima poll (July 2012) has revealed that 67% of Canadians want to see Canada slow down climate change.
Some environmental stakeholders have already spoken out. Keith Stewart, a campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, says in advocating for the expansion of the tar sands, the document relies on the assumption that the world will not reduce enough GHG emissions to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming. Mr. Stewart said, “So the only way you can justify expansion of the tar sands is by using the scenario where climate change runs out of control. If you use the scenario where we actually get a handle on this, then there isn’t the demand for increased tar sands that the federal government is pushing.”
The Senate Committee has assumed support for climate change curtailments will be low; that there is little public approval to indulge environmental concerns and total public approval to indulge economic concerns. This has been used to advocate greater investment in non-renewable energy sources.
But structuring our systems around this assumption only serves to alienate Canadians from a living, breathing ecosystem. For citizens to be aware of our contribution to climate change, the economic and political structures of a nation need to be carbon-conscious.
Moving Beyond Responsible Development?
A key priority of the report is the development of Canada’s energy infrastructure. This would primarily entail capitalizing on oil and natural gas pipeline opportunities. But is responsible development reconcilable with the report’s vision for Canada to become the most energy productive nation in the world?
Under a frame of public justice, sustainability is the only route that will ensure efficient energy production while caring for creation.
Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, reported that “For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions”. There comes a time when not choosing sustainability is simply irrational.
The Council of Canadians likewise found the report to be shortsighted. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council, has said “In the long run, if you have a healthy environment you’re going to produce the kind of jobs that last longer and protect people. It’s like the asbestos industry: yes, there are jobs there but at what cost?”
In order to do what the report envisions, we need to fuel a lasting, alternative market. Putting a price on carbon would deter consumers from supporting a harmful industry, reacquaint citizens with creation, and foster the development of alternative energy sources.
More than Just Economic Credibility
In its conclusions, the Now or Never report states that compromises are inevitable in the implementation of a national energy strategy. But its perspective goes far beyond compromise. Gaining public approval is not just about satisfying economic concerns. The whole process of constructing an energy strategy becomes more democratic when other stakeholders are consulted. For fuller public approval, Canada’s economic interests should be structured around her international climate change commitments.
Having established collaborative energy leadership as its first priority, the Senate Committee erred in making climate change a mere afterthought. As the report notes, “Energy issues can be a powerful force of national unity or they can be divisive and lead to unrest”. It is time for a National Energy Strategy that truly considers national unity and public justice as its priorities. Credibility is more than just a market affair.