Lost in the shuffle: oil and gas clout shuts out sustainable voices at energy ministers meeting, jeopardizing Canada’s clean energy future

By Steve Roddick

This weekend, Federal, Provincial, and Territorial energy ministers will meet in Kananaskis, Alberta to establish what many expect will be the preliminary framework for a national energy strategy, the first that Canada has had since the late 1980s. The outcome will have tremendous implications for Canada’s energy sector, and will set the tone for oil, natural gas, and clean energy investment over the next decade. 

This meeting presents a unique opportunity to launch a progressive policy framework that will drive innovation and transformative change in the energy sector. Environmental lobbyists have been hammering this home in the weeks leading up to this conference, and the polls show that a strong majority of Canadians agree: the government needs to make greater investments in green jobs and green energy technology.

It appears, however, that clean energy solutions, and the interests and opinions of Canadian tax-payers, are once again being subsumed by the “real” players: Canada’s oil and gas producers.

As corporate sponsors, the CAPP and many of the companies it represents have donated nearly $200,000 to cover the costs of this meeting. Coincidentally, the Ministers’ agenda is largely filled with site-visits and presentations about the tar sands, while — as the Suzuki Foundation has noted — completely ignoring large renewable energy projects in the province.

At some point, a small group of environmentalists will have an opportunity to address the Ministers, but this group represents only a microcosm of voices that should be included in this discussion. Meanwhile, through their corporate sponsorship, Canada’s oil and gas producers have not only purchased a seat at the table, but have literally purchased the table around which this group will sit to lay out the parameters of Canada’s energy future.

This is shameful, but given the stakes, not necessarily surprising.

In recent months, the oil and gas lobby has been actively pushing for a comprehensive energy plan that will help producers break down regulatory barriers, overcome treaty-related legal restrictions on oil and gas development projects, and create an overall policy environment that facilitates steady increases of output and profits (read: no emission restrictions).

In the words of Shell Canada president Lorraine Mitchellmore, for oil and gas producers, this national strategy “is about wealth creation, and taking what Canada has as its competitive advantage and turning it into an economic advantage in the future.” In real person talk, Mitchellmore is essentially saying that  ‘Canada needs to extract and sell as much fossil fuels as possible while demand remains high, in order to make a vast sum of money, which can then be used to invest in other industries and employment sectors further down the road.’

The environmental argument against this short-sighted logic is clear: maximizing development of these resources will lead to greater ecological damage in the Alberta tar sands, new exploration-related risks for oil and natural gas projects in the ArcticBritish Columbia, and Quebec, and rising emissions across the country. Canada’s energy strategy is intimately linked to our emissions reduction targets — which the federal government has yet to act on, by the way –, and a framework that places short-term economic growth ahead of long-term environmental stability will continue to place a whole generation of Canadians at risk.

However, this perspective also short-changes Canadians economically by entrenching Canada’s workforce in fossil fuel industries that are already on their way out.

According to a recent UN report, green energy investment has increased five-fold since 2004, with the cost-effectiveness of solar and wind power in particular rising dramatically over this period — and expected to rise even further. This wave of clean technology will reduce the economic feasibility of oil and gas development, driving down investment in the sector and, inevitably, employment.

If Canada does not begin to make political and financial investments towards innovative clean energy industries now, we will only fall further behind the rest of the world.

This weekend, Canada’s energy ministers have a chance to create a progressive, innovative policy framework — one that will initiate a just transition towards renewable energy alternatives, and begin the process of de-linking our national economic and environmental future from carbon-based development.

I, for one, hope that the voice of reason, and the long-term interests of Canadians — especially youth, who stand to inherit this future — will not be drowned out by the myopic and opportunistic interests of Canada’s oil and gas lobby.

Given the unprecedented access and influence being afforded to Canada’s oil and gas producers, however, the deck is stacked in their favour.

Of course, climate justice activists from across the country will continue to advocate for better energy and environmental policies, at all levels of government.

But in Kananaskis, an economically and environmentally sustainable national energy strategy just isn’t in the cards.

If you’re interested in getting more involved in climate justice activism, join the movement:

Steve Roddick is part of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition’s Policy and Research Team. He can be reached at steve@ourclimate.ca. 

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