Clean energy ‘mega-trend’ sweeping globe: Canada vulnerable

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Canadian economy left vulnerable, Harper government told in briefings: Canada is becoming vulnerable to a planetary “mega trend” toward low-carbon energy, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was told in newly released internal briefing notes.


OTTAWA — A dependence on fossil fuel resources is making the country vulnerable to a planetary “mega trend” toward low-carbon energy that “will affect the whole of Canada’s economy,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was told in newly released internal briefing notes.

“While Canada has an enviable energy resource advantage, its future success cannot be taken for granted,” said the briefing notes. “It must make smart decisions now in order to get ahead of emerging challenges. The country will need to further diversify its energy sources, ensure that it has secure access to global markets and find ways to meet the growing demand for energy at home in ways that are environmentally sustainable and publicly acceptable.”

Noting that Canada was last among G8 nations in terms of clean energy investments, the briefing notes prepared by bureaucrats at Natural Resources Canada for Oliver after he was appointed to cabinet in May 2011, explained that the growth of emerging economies such as China and India was one “mega trend” influencing the economy and demand for resources and energy.

But the documents also suggested that other countries were getting ahead of Canada in a new market, estimated to be worth $6.5 trillion in 2007-2008, for green products and services aimed at lowering carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

“Over the medium term, the world is being shaped by another mega trend — the beginning of a transition towards a lower-carbon economy,” said the briefing notes, marked secret but declassified for release to Postmedia News under access to information legislation. “While fossil fuels will remain a dominant source of global energy for decades to come, leading economies, including the US and China are making major investments to position themselves as low-carbon leaders.”

Oliver was also told that some countries were using “protectionist policies” to “provide a competitive boost to their manufacturers” of clean technologies versus foreign competitors through standards, tariffs and some “buy local” rules.

In a statement, Oliver told Postmedia News that the Harper government has invested more than $10 billion since 2006 in programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a more sustainable environment through green infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy technology and cleaner fuels.

“Our government has a strong record on clean energy and a cleaner environment,” said Oliver. “We will continue research and development with governments, industry and academia in these areas.”

Following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s election in 2006, his minority government actually cancelled billions of dollars in climate change and clean energy programs prompting public criticism. One year later, it started announcing the billions of dollars worth of new investment programs with similar features but different names.

But it ended most of the programs, such as stimulus funding in support of wind, solar and other renewable energy, after forming a majority government in 2011.

The briefing notes — which described Oliver’s department as the lead federal investor and performer of clean energy research, development and technology demonstration — also said that the decisions made today would “shape Canada’s energy future and carbon footprint for decades to come.”

“Growing demand for natural resources and the long-term transition towards a low-carbon economy will affect the whole of Canada’s economy, especially given energy’s role as a key input,” said the briefing notes.

“How Canada develops and uses its assets, from its resource base through to its skilled workforce and emerging clean tech sector, will be a deciding factor in strengthening its overall competitiveness in today’s uncertain world.”

The briefing notes explained that public opinion polls demonstrated Canadians wanted the government to increase its investments in new technologies, but that it was facing criticism for not keeping up with other countries, ranking 13th in the world and “last among the G8 in low carbon market investments.”

The briefing notes also highlighted the value of promoting energy efficiency through policies such as a home renovations subsidy program, cancelled in 2012, to help households reduce energy consumption.

“There is a large body of evidence that suggests energy efficiency can make a significant contribution to economic competitiveness, cost savings and GHG reductions,” said the documents, which also said that Canadians had spent about $189 billion to heat and cool their homes in 2008.


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