Canada Can Rise to the World’s Climate Challenge. But First it Must Step Up.

Today, 800 scientists from around the world stood up and told us that humans are the driving force behind dangerous climate change and that the impacts will be pervasive and severe.  They did it in the form of the most robust and authoritative report on climate change to date, released this morning in Sweden.
As Josh Laughren, WWF’s director of climate and energy, wrote yesterday– this is a message that all of us need to take seriously.  The threat is clear, the timing urgent.
While energy from coal, oil and gas, has literally fueled enormous industrial and economic gains over the last century, we now realize that our unconstrained burning of fossil fuels is putting these very gains and the quality of life on earth at risk. Thankfully, while the threat is more apparent than ever, so are the solutions. Broadly, we need to change the way we produce and use energy.
Canada can lead this charge and drive the change our planet needs in the 21st Century. However, if our nation is to rise to the climate challenge, we must quickly get on a different path. The first hurdle is to immediately address how far we are from meeting the federal government’s 2020 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
According to Environment Canada’s own figures, Canada is on pace to reach only half of that goal by 2020, meaning we will be off by 113 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.  That’s more than the total emissions from our electricity sector, more than all emissions from every single passenger vehicle in Canada.  Bridging that gap is no small feat.  But we must, and more to the point, we can.


WWF and many others have proposed this best be addressed through a National Energy Strategy, developed by cities and provinces in partnership with our federal government. To put Canada on a path for climate and energy security, this strategy will need to directly address five priorities:
1.       Reassessing the projected growth of Canada’s oil and gas sector in the context of established climate targets.  It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which oil sands production can double in less than a decade (as currently projected) while Canada still meets the 2020 targets.  Further, proposed fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines, is designed to last many decades, which commits us to a high-carbon economy.  The long-term economic risk, as well as the ecological risk, of today’s fossil fuel investments must be carefully considered before we advance further on the current path.
2.        Setting world-leading oil and gas industry regulations that spur innovation toward bridging our emissions gap.  The federal government is years overdue in delivering these regulations. We can’t waste another month to unleash the creative capacity of our energy sector to lower emissions from Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions
3.       Dramatically increasing energy conservation from buildings by supporting retrofitting efforts for current buildings and setting best-in-class building codes for new builds.  Increased energy efficiency is a prerequisite to a low-carbon shift.  Best-in-class standards paired with aggressive support for retrofitting our built environment will lead to economy-wide conservation results – not to mention lower energy bills.
4.       Using price signals to drive low-carbon solutions, including a price on carbon and incentives for investment in renewable energy.   Reducing subsidies and other incentives for fossil fuel development while incentivizing renewable energy development will spur the solutions we need.  Many in business, including the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, support a price on carbon. B.C.’s pioneering revenue-neutral carbon tax is an instructive model that could be applied nationally.
5.       Investing significantly in infrastructure for public transit and electrified transportation powered by smart “green” electricity grids.  As I wrote recently in the Globe and Mail, innovations in grid infrastructure can both maximize energy efficiency as well as Canada’s renewable energy potential.  Electrifying transportation through green-powered grids would be a massive step forward in meeting climate goals, while simultaneously spurring the development of more livable cities.
Where today’s climate report ends is where our job, Canada’s job, begins.  It’s a huge challenge, and our future depends on it. We are a resourceful, innovative, and intelligent people.  Indeed, through initiatives like BC’s carbon tax and the City of Toronto’s climate strategy, we have already demonstrated that significant emissions reductions efforts are possible and work.  We have everything it takes to lead.  It is in our own best interests, and the world’s, to act now.