Our Post-Pan­demic En­ergy Fu­ture

Policy - - In This Issue - Sea­mus O’Re­gan

At the dawn of 2020, it seemed the wicked prob­lem that would dom­i­nate global agen­das for this year would be cli­mate change. While the COVID-19 pan­demic and eco­nomic shut­down have eclipsed even the cli­mate cri­sis in the po­lit­i­cal dis­course for the mo­ment, in­ter­na­tional pol­icy mak­ers and thought lead­ers in the en­ergy field are still work­ing to rec­on­cile our eco­nomic and cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion needs. Sea­mus O’Re­gan, Canada’s Min­is­ter of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, is one of them.

Politi­cians are al­ways look­ing for sto­ries, and for places to tell them. In the month of Fe­bru­ary, be­fore the COVID-19 shut­down, I’d struck gold. I found my­self in two dif­fer­ent cities, on two dif­fer­ent days, and with two vastly dif­fer­ent au­di­ences, and two dif­fer­ent ways of telling the ex­act same story. And, in the telling of this tale, I had found a way to make my point.

In Van­cou­ver, I gave a key­note speech at GLOBE, North Amer­ica’s largest clean­tech con­fer­ence. My mes­sage was sim­ple—that Canada would not reach its cli­mate goals with­out the oil and gas in­dus­try. Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada of­fi­cials had run the num­bers

and the road to net-zero emis­sions by 2050 ran through the oil-pro­duc­ing prov­inces of Al­berta, Saskatchew­an and New­found­land & Labrador, and there was no get­ting around it.

The next day, I flew to Calgary. I co-hosted an In­no­va­tion Sum­mit with Al­berta’s En­ergy Min­is­ter, Sonya Sav­age. The au­di­ence might not have been as large as GLOBE’s, but around that ta­ble sat some of the big­gest play­ers in Al­berta en­ergy R&D. News head­lines were dom­i­nated by sto­ries of in­vestors in­creas­ingly turn­ing their backs on the sec­tor, and the mood of the room was un­set­tled. I told them ex­actly what I had told the au­di­ence at GLOBE. And that day, in lis­ten­ing to what the peo­ple around that ta­ble told me, it be­came clear to me that, in fact, Cana­dian oil and gas needed net-zero.

Call me the Min­is­ter of In­con­ve­nient Truths. It was not the crowd-pleas­ing mes­sage ei­ther ex­pected, but each was re­cep­tive to it. It felt like the time had come to sit and speak of the world not as each wanted it to be, but as it was.

Canada is the fourth-largest pro­ducer of oil in the world. That is a point I al­ways make to ev­ery au­di­ence on the sub­ject of en­ergy. That ac­com­plish­ment, the re­sult of the ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ge­nu­ity of our peo­ple, has brought us im­mense fi­nan­cial wealth and em­ployed hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans. It does not mean we dig in and re­sist the truth of our chang­ing cli­mate. It does mean we have a great re­spon­si­bil­ity. And the world is watch­ing—in­creas­ingly by Zoom.

COVID-19 has meant at­tend­ing in­ter­na­tional sum­mits from your den. At my sec­ond In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency min­is­te­rial meet­ing, I was sur­prised I was one of the first cho­sen to speak, of the dozens of min­is­ters who were ‘there’. It dawned that that was be­cause I was the Min­is­ter of Nat­u­ral Re­sources of the fourth largest oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try in the world. Other coun­tries below us on that rank­ing read­ily iden­tify as oil-pro­duc­ers and make it a na­tion-build­ing im­per­a­tive. We do not see our­selves that way, but oth­ers do.

They also see us as the sec­ond-largest pro­ducer of hy­dro­elec­tric­ity in the world. They see us as a global leader in so­lar and wind power and emerg­ing re­new­able en­ergy stor­age tech­nolo­gies. They know we’re a tier-1 na­tion for nu­clear en­ergy, and a driver of clean hy­dro­gen pro­duc­tion, bio­fu­els, and cut­ting- edge fuel cell tech­nolo­gies.

So, oth­ers look upon us with high ex­pec­ta­tions. They also look upon us with some envy. Coun­tries around the world see en­ergy and en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture as in­te­gral to their post-pan­demic re­cov­ery, but few have the range of re­new­able and non-re­new­ables that we do.

The di­ver­sity of our en­ergy sec­tor is our un­der­ly­ing strength. It is that di­ver­sity that will carry Canada through this short-term storm, and through the long-term tran­si­tion that has been un­der­way since be­fore the pan­demic be­gan.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween non­re­new­able and re­new­able en­ergy sources is not one of op­pos­ing teams. It is one of sym­bio­sis. That syn­ergy must pre­vail in the months and years ahead. The rel­a­tive sizes of the re­new­able and non-re­new­able shares of the en­ergy sec­tor are shift­ing. They will con­tinue to shift over time. How gov­ern­ments man­age the shift­ing of those tec­tonic plates—how they sup­port the work­ers and re­gions that rely on in­dus­tries ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that shift— has great po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic con­se­quences for the coun­try.

To drive our post-COVID re­cov­ery and ad­vance our com­mit­ment to net-zero, I be­lieve we need to do three things:

First, we need to be smart. We must use ev­ery ounce of our in­ge­nu­ity to make our tra­di­tional sources of en­ergy more sus­tain­able—through elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, car­bon cap­ture and stor­age, and evolv­ing clean tech­nolo­gies.

Sec­ond, we need to be thor­ough. This means mak­ing smarter in­di­vid­ual choices that will achieve col­lec­tive re­sults—bet­ter ap­pli­ances, bet­ter light bulbs, bet­ter win­dows, bet­ter build­ing codes, bet­ter cars. This ‘rad­i­cal in­cre­men­tal­ism’ will, cu­mu­la­tively, be far more ef­fec­tive than any one sin­gle, revo­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­ogy we hope will one day save us.

Third, we need to be thought­ful about the chal­lenges ahead in the global eco­nomic re­cov­ery, and about just how fun­da­men­tal this longer-term en­ergy tran­si­tion will be. Some will say that we are mov­ing too fast. Oth­ers will say that we are mov­ing too slowly.

Through all of it, we must be de­ter­mined that peo­ple—en­ergy work­ers

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween non-re­new­able and re­new­able en­ergy sources is not one of op­pos­ing teams. It is one of sym­bio­sis. That syn­ergy must pre­vail in the months and years ahead.

Oth­ers look upon us with high ex­pec­ta­tions. They also look upon us with some envy. Coun­tries around the world see en­ergy and en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture as in­te­gral to their post-pan­demic re­cov­ery, but few have the range of re­new­able and non­re­new­ables that we do.

and their fam­i­lies—aren’t left be­hind. And we must be de­ter­mined that whole re­gions of this coun­try—those that pro­duce much of our non-re­new­able en­ergy now—aren’t left be­hind.

Our mis­sion must be a shared one— to build a stronger, more sus­tain­able and in­no­va­tive en­ergy sec­tor as part of a more pros­per­ous and sus­tain­able econ­omy. It will re­quire de­ter­mi­na­tion, good will, em­pa­thy, and the co­op­er­a­tion of all Cana­di­ans. It will be hard work.

Our gov­ern­ment was elected on a plat­form with a se­ri­ous plan to fight cli­mate change. Cana­di­ans ex­pect us to hon­our that com­mit­ment. The eco­nomic re­cov­ery from the COVID-19 pan­demic re­quires broad-based mea­sures that put Cana­di­ans back to work, and keep us on our path to achiev­ing net-zero emis­sions by 2050.

It is worth em­pha­siz­ing that the key word in that ob­jec­tive is “net”. It is an ac­knowl­edg­ment that non-re­new­able sources of en­ergy will con­tinue to be a part of our coun­try’s en­ergy mix un­til, and per­haps be­yond, 2050. The world to­day does not yet have the tech­nol­ogy to fully meet our en­ergy needs with­out non-re­new­ables, and we do not yet have all the com­mer­cially vi­able re­place­ments we need.

The work con­tin­ues even as our gov­ern­ment re­sponds to the clear and present im­me­di­ate threats posed by the pan­demic. That mat­ters. It mat­ters be­cause the work is im­por­tant, and it mat­ters be­cause of the role it will be play­ing in gen­er­at­ing growth for so many com­mu­ni­ties that have been hit hard by the pan­demic, in­clud­ing Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Right now, across this coun­try, many peo­ple are re-dis­cov­er­ing the sim­ple joys of gar­den­ing. We’re all cre­at­ing mi­cro-en­vi­ron­ments on our win­dowsills, our pa­tios, and our yards.

As my mother taught me, gar­den­ing is all about bal­ance. Even though I don’t have much of a green thumb, I do know that if your plants are strug­gling be­cause there’s too much sun­light… you don’t solve that prob­lem by stick­ing them in the cup­board all day long. They need bal­ance.

Our en­ergy tran­si­tion and the in­ter­play be­tween econ­omy and en­vi­ron­ment is no dif­fer­ent. They are ecosys­tems. Ecosys­tems need bal­ance. Bring­ing Canada’s eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ecosys­tem into bal­ance must, and will be, an en­dur­ing pur­suit.

As the late Jim Pren­tice wrote in his book Triple Crown, “No other democ­racy in the world pos­sesses a com­pa­ra­ble set of en­ergy op­por­tu­ni­ties.” We are a coun­try blessed with a bounty of nat­u­ral re­source wealth. We are a coun­try that re­lies on that bounty, na­tion­ally, for an en­vi­able qual­ity of life. Our stew­ard­ship of these re­sources, as we meet the ur­gency of com­bat­ing cli­mate change, is the chal­lenge of our age.

GLOBE se­ries photo.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Sea­mus O’Re­gan gives the key­note at the GLOBE clean tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver in Fe­bru­ary. In ne­go­ti­at­ing clean tech agree­ments with other coun­tries, O’Re­gan says Canada be­gins from a po­si­tion of strength in di­ver­sity in re­new­ables such as hy­dro, nu­clear, so­lar and wind en­ergy.

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