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Energy Transition: Is Canada Up To The Task?

By 29/01/2018November 22nd, 2021No Comments

This article was written by Kristen Allen and Omer Kaya.

On January 23rd, Omer Kaya and Kristen Allen attended the Positive Energy Public Panel at the University of Ottawa. Senior government officials and industry leaders addressed issues pertaining to energy transition. Below are their thoughts on topics discussed during the event.

Our current way of life is not sustainable. Change at the rate that is required to reform our course is uncomfortable; nevertheless, the earth does not consider the economics of change. We need to implement progressive modifications in policies and business models. In this new age, innovation has become the most significant component in managing the changing dynamics of energy demand and public perceptions towards it. The traces leading to perceiving energy as a service, rather than a commodity as traditionally seen, has become even clearer.

The transition to green/clean energy is a formidable task. It would require an investment of $4 billion a year for 20 years for the Canadian clean technology sector to grow to the size of the Canadian oil and gas industry. To help with the transition, policies and programs are beginning to encourage green innovation and transformation of assets. Investments through programs such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), and BDC and EDC, have lifted Canada to fourth on the Global Clean Technology Index, including first place for funds available and second place for entrepreneurial environment. However, even with the increase in awareness for sustainability and energy transition, the demand for oil and gas is not expected to decrease until 2040. In the meantime, advancements are being made in Canada to produce cleaner oil and fossil fuels through innovative networks such as Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and Canada’s Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN).

However, Canada’s influence on global emissions and sustainability is limited to the impact of our exported technologies. Other countries with a growing middle class such as India are looking to Canada for green technology solutions. To maintain a leadership role in the clean technology sector, we need to export our innovative technologies, otherwise, demand will be filled by technologies developed in other countries. This will result in Canada becoming a technology buyer and create a trade deficit.

Futuristically speaking, the technology and infrastructure we build in the next 5-10 years will be in place for decades to come. This process has to be planned wisely. Innovators need to know what developments will be made in the short term in order to reach long-term goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% below the 2005 levels by 2050. Do the timelines set by government offer checkpoints to determine what actions need to be taken in the next 5-10 years?

With an unclear plan of exactly what actions need to be taken to make the transition to clean energy, we cannot expect uncoordinated and isolated actions will bring emissions to their target level, especially since there is confusion about what living sustainably looks like.

The Paris Agreement signed in 2016 created consensus among nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This development is actually ground-breaking, and has let to Canada’s ambitious emission reduction goals. However, each individual country’s target is voluntary based; there is no mechanism in place that binds or controls countries to fulfil what they have promised. It is disheartening to think that even if Canada achieves ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets, our effect on global emissions will be marginal.  Coupled with a complex energy decision-making and environmental review process, this leaves the public trust in the sector low.

On the other hand, there is a danger that Canada will not be able to meet our own 2050 greenhouse gas emission targets. If our energy challenges are shared by larger countries, then we expect to see consequences of climate change worsen before a sense of urgency spurs governments into action. Those that have contributed the least to global emissions and have the least power to impact the ecosystem are the most vulnerable to disaster in the form of food shortages, water shortages, extreme weather and other natural disasters. It is the responsibility of developed countries to change our behaviour before more of a global carbon footprint is left on Earth.

Is Canada up to the task of transitioning to clean energy?

Well, we have to be.

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