Climate change must be integrated into the Canadian Energy Strategy

During the annual Council of the Federation meeting, held last week in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the premiers tackled a range of topics including interprovincial wine sales, infrastructure, health care, and cyberbullying.

There was a lot to talk about, but there was one item I paid close attention to: the Canadian Energy Strategy.

You may recall that at last year’s meeting, the energy strategy was at the top of the agenda. Although the substantive discussions were upstaged by the dispute between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and B.C. premier Christy Clark over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the rest of the premiers signed onto a communiqué that spoke of the need to develop a “strategic, forward thinking approach for sustainable energy development” and “a more integrated approach to climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing the transition to a lower carbon economy.”

We, and many of our allies, cheered the development of a Canadian Energy Strategy and we were looking forward to an update. We’ve been critical of the piecemeal approach to energy planning to date, and welcomed a more integrated approach.

Assessing energy projects on a piecemeal basis makes it seem like we must choose between the environment and the economy. It doesn’t allow for a real look at the bigger picture to identify ways to build a low-carbon economy that creates good jobs. Instead, we’re given the very limited choice of approving or rejecting a given pipeline or hydro project.

Furthermore, the piecemeal approach obscures the fact that energy and climate change are bound together, and they must be addressed in an integrated fashion. Energy is responsible for 80 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. But when we assess projects on a one-off basis, we can fail to appreciate that.

That’s why we were concerned to see any mention of climate change dropped from the vision and principles of a Canadian Energy Strategy in the documents released by the premiers last week. The need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change should be a motivating principle behind any pan-Canadian energy plan.

Canadians want leadership on this issue.  Case in point, we participated in a consultation session about the energy strategy along with some 50 other stakeholders a little while back. In that session, it was made very clear that the strategy must address climate change. In fact, one of the most talked about topics was the need for a carbon tax or other price on carbon.

Canadians strongly support a climate and energy strategy. Indeed, in a recent poll, 87 per cent of respondents agreed that “The nation needs a Canadian climate and energy strategy to plan its energy future.” And the inclusion of climate change is critical.

Sadly, it seems the premiers didn’t hear this.

It’s not too late, however, to make sure that the concerns of Canadians are heard and climate change plays a more prominent role in our energy planning. We’ll be working to see that happen.