Still taking stock of an energy transition to come
September 6, 2023
Natural Resource Canada’s Standing Committee on Natural Resources is waiting on a Government Response to its recent report, “Creating a Fair and Equitable Canadian Energy Transformation”. The report documented the wide range of perspectives on the concept of weaning the country’s economy from fossil fuels to alternative sources that would meet climate change goals for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Given how much public discourse has surrounded the notion of net-zero, it may be revealing that the Committee’s first recommendation called for a set clear targets for that goal, along with a clear plan to meet these targets. Presentations made to the Committee indicated where parts of such a plan may be found in different agencies and departments, but the lack of a unifying theme or bureaucratic structure has not met the expectations of policy critics and advocates.
“Frankly, federal departments and agencies have not established frameworks to measure success, to monitor the work or to support Canadians in this transition,” said Jamie Kirkpatrick, Program manager for Blue Green Canada, a consortium of labour unions and environmental organizations with an interest in the effect of climate change measures on employment.
He noted NRCan’s slow pace of efforts to guide changes in the energy sector, even after that mandate was established in 2019. The result has been to generate a great deal of information around that challenge, with no specific recommendations about how individuals or organizations within that sector should proceed.
“As it's currently envisioned, it's not the solution,” he said. “What we've done so far is we've managed to divide this work across many government ministries.”
The Committee’s recommendations therefore ask the federal government to create a “dedicated government body to plan sustainable jobs initiatives and engagement for the ongoing development of a net-zero economy.”
Along with that recommendation, the report included a list of jurisdictions around the world that have already created such bodies for that purpose. New Zealand, for example, created a Just Transitions Unit within its Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, charged with drafting plans to work directly with communities affected by changes in energy production.
The New Zealand government took that step after signing the International Just Transition Declaration, which was part of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Canada also signed that document, and created what was initially called its Just Transition Advisory Body, now the Net Zero Advisory Body.
Such moves have not sat well with the opposition Conservative Party, whose dissenting report was included in the NRCan document.
“Conservatives reject the idea that a government-led ‘transition’ is a good choice for Canadians,” stated the Conservative response, “because Canadian energy is already a world leader in industry-led technological advancement and environmental performance, and because the so-called government-led ‘Just Transition’ model has never worked whenever it has been tried.”
Such sentiments were echoed in August by Rich Kruger, CEO of Calgary-based Suncor Energy Inc., who commented that deliberations around long-term energy transition goals should not overshadow the company’s need to maintain its value as a reliable source of oil for the economy. Those remarks were subsequently seized upon by Environmental Minister Steven Guilbeault, who suggested that they would contribute to the rationale for a federally imposed cap on greenhouse gas emissions by the oil and gas industry.
Such regulations could also become part-and-parcel of other recommendations by the NRCan Committee, which included an end to fossil-fuel industry subsidies and an investment plan for a net-zero economy. One recommendation dealt specifically with the future prospects of hydrogen, with an emphasis on conducting research to develop technology around this energy source as well as training the people necessary to work with this resource.
The Committee’s report cast such shoring of a net-zero energy supply chain as a key goal for any successful policy, one that would achieve environmental as well as economic and social benefits in areas such as the extraction of critical minerals, battery manufacturing, and agriculture. And while the urgency of implementing this kind of policy would appear to be high, its overarching conclusion was if that policy is to succeed in all parts of the country, there must a common view of what is happening.
“Canada will be better prepared to manage a net-zero transition,” the report observed, “if its governments, industries, workers and communities have a better understanding of what the transition is and where it is taking them.”