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Premiers Finalize National Energy Strategy That Relies Heavily on Fossil Fuels, Pipelines

Canada’s provincial leaders finalized the Canadian Energy Strategy Friday with a document many onlookers are criticizing as too reliant on traditional carbon-based sources of energy.

The strategy, intended to guide the integrated development of Canada’s energy resources across the provinces, places no restrictions on the release of greenhouse gas emissions and takes a proactive approach to building oil and gas pipelines.

According to officials who spoke with the Globe and Mail the strategy was meant to strike a balance between the energy ambitions of each province with growing concerns over global climate change.

“We have a path to pursue two critical national priorities,” a senior Alberta official said, ”how are we going to keep building our energy industry and how are we going to address climate change?”

Commitment to Cleaner Energy Long-Overdue

The Canadian Energy Strategy, although acknowledging the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the provinces, maintains an equal opportunity approach to all energy sources — an element of the document that weakens Canada’s stance in the rapidly evolving clean energy economy according to alternative energy analysts.

Clean Energy Canada, a climate and energy think tank, said the energy strategy lacks the strong commitments needed to advance low-carbon sources of energy.

“Today’s strategy recognizes the role that renewable electricity and pricing carbon will play in this shift, but still leans heavily on traditional fossil-based energy sources,” Sarah Petrevan, senior policy advisor with Clean Energy Canada, said.

Petrevan said the document merely gives a nod to clean energy without outlining any meaningful policy for its real-world development.

“This is 2015, and we need to do better,” she said. “We need deeper reductions, and a clear plan to deliver them, we hope [the premiers’] work over the next year will yield that.”

As DeSmog Canada has previously reported, Canada has no national climate legislation and has failed for years to deliver promised regulations for the oil and gas sector. According to Environment Canada, the country is on track to miss its greenhouse gas reduction targets agreed to under the Copenhagen Accord. 

Last year Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand released a scathing critique of Canada after she found the nation has no plan in place for reaching its climate targets and has “no climate vision” whatsoever.

Canada Missing Economic Benefits of Clean Energy

Petrevan added: “If the global economy were a baseball game, a home run would be heading straight for the clean-energy industry — but Canada hasn’t even left the dugout.”

“We’ve lost out on nearly $9 billion in clean-energy export opportunities in 2013 alone. We need a plan to transition our economy and reap the benefits of the growth and jobs that come with it.”

Petrevan and others are pointing to an absence of federal leadership as a critical weakness in Canada’s fight against climate change.

In late 2013 Canada 2020 released a poll that showed while the vast majority of Canadians (84 per cent) think the federal government has a responsibility to the take lead on combatting global climate change, very few (16 per cent) believed it was an actual priority for the government.

Diana Carney, associate with Canada 2020, said the poll results confirmed a common public sentiment across the nation: “there is a leadership vacuum when it comes to fighting climate change in this country.”

Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said Canada should make more effort to enter into the clean energy transition, arguing that is where the future job market lies.

The strategy’s ‘non-discriminatory’ approach to all forms of energy is out-of-touch, according to the network. “What’s needed is public policy favouring clean, renewable energy over the oil, coal and natural gas unbalancing the climate system,” the group stated in a press release.

Comeau said it is not uncommon for governments to restrict the entry of harmful products into the market.

“Governments discriminate against smoking and toxics in food and consumer products,” she said. “What’s needed now is discriminatory policy against fossil fuels if we are going to drastically reduce the carbon pollution putting our health and well-being at risk.”

In early 2015 Clean Energy Canada released a report on the state of renewable energy, finding global investment in alternative energy increased by 17 per cent from 2013.

The report concluded Canada, by directing enormous subsidies and tax breaks towards the fossil fuel industry, is holding Canada’s clean energy revolution back.

Major Pipeline Rupture in Alberta Emphasizes Fossil Fuel Risks

This week a pipeline owned by oilsands operator Nexen ruptured near the company’s Long Lake facility southeast of Fort McMurray, releasing 32,000 barrels or 1.32 million gallons of bitumen emulsion into the surrounding environment.

The spill is a reminder of the high-stakes risk major oil pipelines pose to the environment, according to Peter Louwe from Greenpeace.

“Alberta has a long way to go to address its pipeline problems,” Louwe said, adding “communities have good reasons to fear having more built.”

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion both plan on carrying increased oilsands crude to the coast of British Columbia. The National Energy Board refused to consider the climate impacts of the pipelines during public hearings, claiming upstream impacts were not relevant to the project’s application.

A similar argument has been made by the regulator regarding TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, currently the largest proposed pipeline on the continent.

According to the Pembina Institute the Energy East pipeline could generate up to 32 million tonnes of additional oilsands emissions from the crude it will transport, the equivalent of adding seven million more cars to Canada’s roads.

Dale Marshall, national program manager with Environmental Defence, said the premier’s energy strategy ignores the climate impacts of pipelines and is falling out of step with the rest of the world.

Marshall described the strategy as “a big step backwards.”

“By lending support to pipelines, the strategy will put Canada further out of step with the rest of the world where climate change is being treated as a serious matter,” he said.

“We in Canada need to come to grips with the fact that it’s practically impossible to grow the tar sands and reduce carbon pollution.”  

Image Credit: Government of Ontario via Flickr

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