January 28, 2020
0800 - 0900
National Arts Centre, 1 Elgin Street
0800 - 0900
National Arts Centre, 1 Elgin Street
By Dale Smith for Sixth Estate,
OTTAWA – As more Canadians agree that there is an urgent need to address climate change, and with Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson having been tasked with working toward an emissions reduction goal of net-zero by 2050, Before the Bell assembled a panel of stakeholders and experts — including the minister himself — to discuss the challenges associated with combatting climate change in Canada.
David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, set the stage by pointing to survey data that shows 33 percent of Canadians worry about climate change every day. Forty-three percent of those who voted Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois, or Green all worry about the issue every day, as compared to only 15 percent of Conservative voters. As well, 71 percent of Canadians believe than an energy transition will happen, and a further 71 percent believe that governments should put more effort into the growth of renewables and clean tech. Eighty-six percent believe that Canada as the potential to be among the most successful countries in developing and using clean energy technologies.
In the Pulse segment, with host Derick Fage, W. Scott Thurlow, lawyer and past president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said that the government needs to do more to mitigate climate change beyond carbon pricing. Thurlow specified that further action is dependent on the details, especially where “carbon leakage” — firms moving to less restrictive jurisdictions — is concerned.
“For the first couple of phases of the [Output-Based Pricing System], it’s really about accounting and mathematics, and understanding where the emissions can be reduced and where they can’t be reduced,” said Thurlow. “When you see investment flight to other jurisdictions, that has a global impact.”
Sarah Goldfeder, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, said people feel that too much of the onus for climate change action is being placed on them and not enough on corporations, and that when people think about emissions targets, there needs to be an all-of-the-above strategy.
“This isn’t a conversation in government just for Environment and Climate Change Canada,” said Goldfeder. “This is a conversation that needs to happen in every single division within government. In some ways, it’s very much like a conversation we had about gender equity in the [government’s] last mandate — it shouldn’t just be about one department and one group’s actions. It is about everyone considering everything we do through this lens.”
In the Policy segment with host and Sixth Estate CEO Andrew Beattie, John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said that despite twenty years of work ensuring cheap renewable energy such as wind and solar, it remains stuck at 36 percent of the total energy mix.
“We need a partner for wind and solar that is not gas or coal, and creating emissions,” said Gorman, who until last year was head of the Canadian Solar Industries Association. “It’s time that we revisit nuclear — not only do we have to refurbish the existing plants so that we’re not slipping backwards, we have to build out massive amounts of new nuclear, and new hydro power to be the partners for wind and solar.”
Gorman says that nuclear is the only proven technology that can decarbonize entire economies in the timeframe that we need to avoid further global warming, adding that Canada has the expertise to help other countries meet those nuclear needs.
Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said that $1.3 billion in claims was paid out in climate-related losses last year, and that Canada is now a costlier place for insurance than it was a decade ago as a result. He added that this was only for insured losses— that governments paid for the rest of the three-quarters of losses that were uninsured.
“Climate change is both a sword and a shield issue — we need to be thinking about it in those terms,” said Stewart. “We need to be not only attacking emissions vigorously to avoid future losses, but we also need to think that climate change is here now, and we need to start defending ourselves from the effects.”
Céline Bak, founder and president of Analytica Advisors, said that emissions are still rising, both domestically and globally, and that combatting them is becoming more of a team sport. Bak said that the European Union and others are developing a “circular economy” to manage their emissions, which involves mainstreaming climate change mitigation across industries.
“The plan is also translated into the financial sector — sustainable finance is something that is not just on the side, but is a core element of it,” said Bak. “That’s part of our day-to-day lives. The mainstreaming of climate in all parts of our daily lives will help us reduce our own [climate] stress.”
Minister Wilkinson said that the pathways to getting to net-zero emissions by 2050 will be different for each country, and that in Canada, where we have a hydrocarbon sector, it will be a challenge.
“I don’t want to fool anyone and say that this is going to be easy,” said Wilkinson. “It’s not going to be easy or simple. It’s something that, in a federation like Canada, is particularly complicated, but this is a scientific issue. It’s not a partisan issue. We need to be guided by science.”
Wilkinson added that some municipalities have been leaders, particularly around issues like urban densification, and that some provinces need to catch up with them.
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