As the dust from the historic Alberta election settles, the big question is “what next?”
Given that Alberta’s current climate policy expires in June and the world is gearing up for a major climate negotiation this December, the details of Premier Notley’s plans for climate action are among the most anticipated parts of the new government’s agenda, and not just for the people of Alberta.
A clear path from here is critical to the health of our oil and gas sectors. Growing U.S. energy production, coupled with burgeoning international demand for secure, affordable supplies of energy, create both an opportunity and an imperative for our country to decide how to get our products to global markets in a way that respects both the environment and community needs. Continued indecision means lower living standards for this generation and lost opportunities for those who follow.
As I travel internationally, I hear firsthand the impressions of foreigners about our country. In the past few years, I have seen that Canada increasingly faces a conundrum. Despite a remarkable record of improvement among the natural resource industries and ambitious measures on greenhouse gases in several provinces, our efforts are not being recognized. It’s frustrating for our businesses that are feeling the pain of taxes and regulations, or are investing billions of dollars in environmental technologies without Canada getting much of a gain in reputation, either at home or abroad.
Rather, our country is perceived as a laggard on measures to fight both climate change and pollution generally.
Perception, however, is not necessarily reality. In December 2014 the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Measures that Matter, which discusses the efforts the major resource industries are making and what progress they are achieving – or not achieving – in reducing environmental impacts. Although the report showed progress was disappointing in some areas, it also documented remarkable achievements in each of the mining, forestry and petroleum sectors. New technologies are presented which are either about to enter commercial use or are already there, effecting huge change.
The report convinced me that Canada can make climate leadership an advantage for our economy, especially by putting the focus on three key areas.
First, we need a smart climate policy that emphasizes innovation. Real progress is going to come from new technologies powered and financed by market forces.
Like most of the energy sector, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce supports reasonable carbon pricing, not because of ideology, but because a carbon price will encourage innovation among people and institutions. When both our business and our population have a strong incentive to find better ways to produce our goods and live our lives, the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.
Leveraging our Expertise
Second, we can leverage our existing energy expertise into a huge industry by creating the environmental solutions the world desperately needs. We have heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Our resource industries are living laboratories and it’s a lot easier for Canada, as a producer, to experiment and find solutions than it is for nations that import their resources.
Take for example Sarnia, in Ontario, which is creating a biochemical cluster that will allow its province to benefit both from the current need for petroleum-based chemicals as well as the movement to replace them with products derived from renewable sources like agricultural wastes.
Enhancing Energy Productivity
Improving the amount of economic output possible for a given energy source is not only an effective way to address greenhouse gas emissions, but it also increases Canada’s economic competitiveness. The global market for energy-efficient goods and services is large and becoming larger. Given our country’s vast distances and cold climate, reducing energy costs can act like a tax cut, allowing households and businesses to spend more in other areas. Thanks to improved efficiency, more than $34 billion in energy savings was reinvested into the Canadian economy between 1990 and 2011. Yet, there is still vast room to do even better.
It’s often discouraging reading the headlines and seeing so many stories that pit industry against the environment. But Canadians know there is another way. A March 2015 poll by Nanos research showed that eight out of ten Canadians believe we can grow our energy sector without damaging the environment.
By designing a strategy that focuses on those points where economics and ecology align, we can be in a good position to prove them right.
The Hon. Perrin Beatty is the President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the essential link between the business community and the federal government. Through corporate, chamber and association members, represent over 200,000 Canadian businesses of all sizes, sectors and regions.
For more information or interview requests, please contact:
G. Will Dubreuil
Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce