Carr leads con­ver­sa­tion on Canada’s tran­si­tion to a green en­ergy fu­ture

Calgary Herald - - FINANCIAL POST - CLAU­DIA CATTANEO Fi­nan­cial Post

As­sem­bling 500 peo­ple with dif­fer­ent en­ergy in­ter­ests to talk about Canada’s en­ergy fu­ture is a bit like claim­ing to sup­port new oil pipe­lines while mak­ing it gru­elling for any­one to build them — a nice show of in­clu­sive­ness, but not so promis­ing if you want to get some­thing done.

Yet that’s not stop­ping Jim Carr, Canada’s Nat­u­ral Re­sources min­is­ter, from try­ing.

Days after Tran­sCanada Corp. shut down its En­ergy East pipe­line pro­posal due to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s broad­en­ing of its reg­u­la­tory re­view to in­clude in­dus­try cli­mate change im­pacts, Carr is host­ing a two-day “con­ver­sa­tion” in his home­town to “cre­ate a long-term vi­sion for Canada’s en­ergy fu­ture” that he hopes will re­sult in “trans­for­ma­tional change.”

The meet­ing marks the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­turn as the lead player in de­sign­ing Canada’s en­ergy strat­egy, after decades of sit­ting on the side­lines. The pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment re­fused to get in­volved, though it liked the idea of Canada as an oil and gas su­per­power. The ma­jor pre­vi­ous at­tempt, the National En­ergy Pro­gram im­ple­mented by Pierre Trudeau, was a dis­as­ter.

Based on who’s present and who’s talk­ing, the fo­cus of Justin Trudeau’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is on tran­si­tion­ing the coun­try to re­new­able en­ergy to meet green­house gas re­duc­tion tar­gets, while show­ing due re­spect for the sec­tors left be­hind, pri­mar­ily oil and gas, re­gard­less of their cur­rent role in the econ­omy and global en­ergy mar­kets.

Fatih Birol, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Paris-based In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, told the meet­ing that gov­ern­ments need to re­ori­ent en­ergy in­vest­ment to clean en­ergy, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and car­bon cap­ture and stor­age to keep world tem­per­a­tures within safe lev­els.

He ac­knowl­edged that Canada is “mak­ing a ma­jor ef­fort” al­ready, while re­main­ing a big con­trib­u­tor to global en­ergy se­cu­rity. How­ever, on the side­lines of the con­fer­ence, Birol said it would be “very bad news for oil prices and for oil se­cu­rity” if Canada was no longer a pro­ducer be­cause so much of the world’s oil comes from un­sta­ble regimes.

Birol also said he doesn’t sub­scribe to the view that oil and gas will no longer be needed be­cause of its per­va­sive use in cars, trucks, petro­chem­i­cals, avi­a­tion and ship­ping.

“A coun­try like Canada, a re­li­able part­ner, pro­ducer and ex­porter, has a role to play in the global en­ergy mar­kets, es­pe­cially Asia, both in terms of oil and gas, but we should un­der­stand that this pro­duc­tion of oil and gas has to be made in a sus­tain­able man­ner with the best tech­nolo­gies avail­able,” he said.

For his part, Jeremy Rifkin, pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion on Eco­nomic Trends and an ad­viser to the Euro­pean Union, ar­gued the world needs to be off car­bon by mid-cen­tury be­cause fail­ure to do so will threaten hu­man­ity.

“It is clear we are in the sun­set of this en­ergy era” and legacy en­ergy as­sets worth tril­lions will be stranded, he said.

He urged the fed­eral Lib­er­als to “pro­vide a light­house for the rest of the Amer­i­cas. This is real. We are scared to death.”

Ger­man State Sec­re­tary Rainer Baake said wind and so­lar power have emerged as the win­ners in the re­new­able tech­nol­ogy race. He ar­gued most oil and gas must re­main in the ground to avoid mov­ing to “a very dan­ger­ous world.”

The en­ergy trans­for­ma­tion means homes will no longer be heated with gas or oil, cars fu­elled with diesel or gaso­line, and that elec­tric­ity will come from re­new­ables, he said.

“This process of de-car­boniza­tion is not de-in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, it’s mod­ern­iza­tion,” Baake said, and that is how it needs to be com­mu­ni­cated. “We need to make this an eco­nomic suc­cess story.”

Carr wouldn’t call oil and gas a sun­set in­dus­try, but agreed that a tran­si­tion is tak­ing place and the main de­bate is around speed.

“I think it’s clear that you have a legacy part of the busi­ness, and you have a sun­rise part of the busi­ness that have to work hand in hand,” he said to re­porters. “The time frame I have heard is 30 years, 40 years, mid-cen­tury, which gives Canada and coun­tries around the world a sense of how the tran­si­tion will un­fold.”

What’s also tak­ing place is a tran­si­tion in gov­ern­ment pri­or­i­ties. A mea­sure of how quickly things change in en­ergy and in pol­i­tics is that it was barely a decade ago that for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper branded Canada an en­ergy su­per­power, pri­mar­ily based on its large oil­sands riches. All we know for sure is that they’ll change again, as will the de­bate.

Jim Carr


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