Oil Sands Watch | Pembina Institute


Will the real clean energy superpower please stand up?

A clean energy superpower: that’s what Canada is aspiring to be, according to comments made by Environment Minister Jim Prentice this week to a Calgary audience.

It’s a strange claim to make given that not too long ago the Conservatives were trying to sell Canada simply as an “emerging energy superpower.” While adding the word “clean” has a nice ring to it, this rhetoric couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the past week, Canada has actually scaled back its climate change targets. Indeed, as Prentice touts Canada as an up-and-coming clean energy superpower, Canada is devoid of any energy or climate strategy. Surely a framework that strategically links our resource production and use, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, considers our long-term energy prospects and transitions us to clean energy sources is required if we’re to be a clean energy super power?

In every corner of the country, there are signals for the need for a national strategy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and leads us toward a sustainable energy future.

In the Arctic, the Joint Review Panel tasked to review the Mackenzie Gas Project recently released its recommendations for how the project can build a sustainable future in the Mackenzie Valley. The panel noted that for the project to be sustainable, governments should include in their climate change policies an implementation strategy that will “optimize the benefits of using natural gas as a transitional fuel in the process of developing a sustainable low-carbon economy” and “ensure that cleaner natural gas is preferentially used to replace and not augment more carbon-intensive and polluting fuels.” The Joint Review Panel recognizes the importance of the strategic use of Canada’s finite energy resources and is calling on the government to take a leadership role.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is being positioned as an oil sands outlet to Asia. Proponents are capitalizing on the lack of national strategy and hoping to dodge the threat of America’s efforts to address climate change by exporting to Asia instead.

On a national level, Canada recently cancelled its support for low-impact renewable energy development. The federal ecoENERGY for Renewable Power program supported renewable energy development in Canada since 2007, creating new jobs in every province — yet the benefits have been tossed aside with no replacement plan to provide support to new renewable energy projects. This decision is moving us in the opposite direction of being a leader in clean energy, let alone a super power.

Finally, in Alberta, the Canada West Foundation’s analysis of the role of the oil and gas sector divisively suggests Canada is incapable of curbing emissions without compromising the national economic benefits of western energy development — namely the oil sands. It’s clear that the oil sands can still grow under strong climate regulations, not to mention that it’s irresponsible to rely on any single sector of our economy to generate wealth.

The critical missing element in these situations from coast to coast is a comprehensive national strategy and the courage to lead. One would hope that a clean energy superpower would embody courage, leadership and a long-term strategic plan. Unfortunately for Canada, so far it’s all talk.

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