(Policy papers 2012-2013)
All residents of this planet share a single environment. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that its climate is changing in harmful ways. But Canada’s government prefers to shoot the messenger. Political interference and budget cuts are hampering the work of Canadian scientists, and our national contribution to the global fight against climate change is shameful. An independent National Academy of Sciences would support the scientific community. Meanwhile, green entrepreneurs are leading the way with innovations in renewable energy and resource efficiency. Imagine what they could do if our government were not marching in the other direction.
Tous les habitants de cette planète partagent un même et unique environnement. Les scientifiques sont d’accord pour dire que son climat est en train de changer de façon nuisible. Mais le gouvernement du Canada préfère tuer le messager. Des interférences politiques et des coupes budgétaires entravent le travail des scientifiques canadiens, et notre contribution nationale à la lutte mondiale contre le changement climatique est honteuse. Une Académie des sciences nationale et indépendante permettrait de soutenir la communauté scientifique. En attendant, des entrepreneurs verts ouvrent la voie avec des innovations dans le domaine des énergies renouvelables et le rendement des ressources. Imaginez ce qu’ils pourraient faire si notre gouvernement ne marchait pas dans la direction opposée.
To say that the current federal government is less than serious about addressing climate change and environmental protection is an understatement. Overall progress toward reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is unacceptably low, according to the David Suzuki Foundation’s April 2012 report. Canada is already way off course for compliance with our most recent target of a 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, not to mention the earlier 2007 commitment to reduce GHGs by 65% by 2050. In fact, Environment Canada now projects that emissions in 2020 will be 7% above 2005 levels.
Some provinces have made laudable progress. Ontario has invested, through its Green Energy Act, in clean energy production and jobs, and it’s shutting down coal-fired generating plants. British Columbia has put a price on carbon pollution, and Quebec has a modest cap-and-trade program. Federal programs, where they exist, are weak and ineffective. According to the Foundation, what is needed is a full suite of policies at the national level to tackle all sources of GHGs that are beyond the reach of standard regulations. We must spur innovation and the production of clean energy, reduce growing road-transportation emissions, make construction more efficient, and increase the pace of renewable power development.
The single most effective step at the national level would be to establish a national carbon price, through a national carbon tax on all producers and consumers. When the costs of harm to the environment are visible, producers and consumers respond by reducing their emissions. A carbon price would be much more effective than the sector-by-sector regulations that the national government favours — and by the way, it has managed to complete only one set, on vehicle fuel efficiency, since 2006.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves that protection of our natural environment can come cost-free. But there are great costs to failure to act, too: increasingly extreme weather events, growing water shortages, polluted air and water, and threats to our health. Sooner or later, we will have to come up with a credible national action plan to provide effective environmental protection measures. Canada also needs leadership well informed by Canada’s energy and economic realities and other national interests to be an effective player in global climate change forums, not an obstacle to progress.
If Canada is to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainable development, we will need to build up our scientific capacity, especially with respect to energy science and clean energy technologies. Science and scientific research should not be influenced by partisan considerations, nor should they be subject to across-the-board austerity measures. But this Conservative government is remarkably mistrustful of even its own scientists. It has been extraordinarily irresponsible in muzzling government scientists and in abolishing the inconvenient position of National Science Advisor and folding it into the more amorphous Science, Technology and Innovation Council. Most recently, the government has fired government climate, wildlife, and fisheries scientists; announced the closing of world-renowned research stations including the Experimental Lakes Area and its unique research centre, which is the reason we don’t have phosphates in our dishwater and why we can swim in the Great Lakes again; and scrapped countless programs like the Marine Pollution Program, which monitors the toxicity of marine organisms to minimize the serious health risks of eating toxic fish. All these unprincipled cuts are destroying Canada’s legacy of fisheries and aquatic science.
We need substantial and unfettered federal support for basic research in science, engineering, and medicine, which helps attract the best and the brightest to our universities. The national government should also play a much greater role in sponsoring and coordinating research and development. Indeed, supporting science is so critical to Canada’s long-term progress and economic development that the federal government must reinstate the senior science advisor to the government, and establish and fund an independent National Academy of Sciences with a multi-stakeholder board of governors. The Academy would be responsible to Parliament but its independence would insulate its ongoing operations from inappropriate and partisan intervention. Among other things, lawmakers would have direct access to the objective science on medicine, energy, the environment and more. (This would build on the Council of Canadian Academies).
A pragmatic approach would put at least as much emphasis on saving energy as on producing it. Efforts to increase conservation and efficiency cannot be centralized and are already being pursued across Canada by a growing number of energetic and innovative local entrepreneurs. The national government should help by providing a central clearinghouse to allow the vital sharing of information and skills; by funding mechanisms to expand our sustainable development technology infrastructure, such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada; and by assisting with adequate financing for start-up investments in marketable initiatives using non-tax-based instruments that broaden the pool of investors and lower the cost of capital. (It is an unfortunate but accurate fact that our private sector lags terribly in research and development of all kinds compared with our G7 counterparts.) The government should also set energy efficiency standards that will drive the necessary innovation that is definitely within our technological grasp.
We need to focus on getting more mobility, lighting, heating, and cooling from less energy and with less waste, especially as the world population rises — it will reach 9 billion by mid-century. The assumption still prevails that we have to consume more in order to grow, but the planet is telling us otherwise. We must learn to grow without consuming more resources, through breakthroughs in efficiency.
The well-respected expert Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, makes a very good case for more investment in devices and projects that save energy than in those that produce more energy. Lovins says we must focus simultaneously in the four energy-using sectors — transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity — and integrate innovation in technology, policy, design, and strategy. Radical automotive efficiency can make electric propulsion affordable even for heavy vehicles; new designs can make buildings and factories several times more efficient than they are now (such as “superwindows” that let light through but block heat); and a modernized electricity system will be more diverse, distributed, and renewable, which also makes it clean, reliable, and secure.
Pursuing the goal of using less energy permits us to find alternatives to the extremely costly production of nuclear power, however “clean” it may be. It is far more economical to integrate renewables such as wind power into a larger, more diversified energy grid, as Denmark has done so successfully. In the wake of the tragic Fukushima meltdown, David Suzuki points out that Japan is now looking at geothermal energy to provide heat and hot water to local communities, as well as wind, solar, and tidal energy. The country is plotting a path to a more sustainable electrical grid based on local, diverse, and renewable sources of energy.
Communities, whether cities, towns, or villages, should be seen as the major focus of smart energy and significant efforts at achieving greater efficiency and expanding conservation. Our cities use at least 50% of all energy in Canada; they must develop integrated energy systems involving on-site renewable energy, district energy, and combined heat and power. Other steps to urban sustainability include massive investments in expanding public transit, rebuilding municipal infrastructure, and finally moving forward on high-speed rail links.
Thousands of individual Canadian researchers and a growing number of businesses large and small are out front as real innovators in green technologies. They — and all Canadians — would benefit from clear and consistent public leadership and investment that acknowledges and addresses the genuine threat of climate change. Our national government must promote sustainability on the supply side, by reducing dependence on carbon-based energy sources; on the demand side, by encouraging greater efficiency and energy conservation at the community level; and on the science side, by boosting Canada’s scientific research capacity.