Low-carbon Canadian economy attainable, but requires ‘massive change’: academics

Low-carbon Canadian economy attainable, but requires ‘massive change’: academics

A group of Canadian academics want the country to take heart: despite how big a project it might seem to be and despite the many years it might take to get there, tackling climate change and getting to a low-carbon economy is possible.

Over 70 scholars from across the country will be putting forward 10 policy planks in a paper this Wednesday at an event in Montreal. They’ll make recommendations that, if implemented, they believe will have a significant impact in reducing Canada’s carbon emissions over the next few decades.

McGill professor Catherine Potvin, the Canada Research Chair for Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests, is spearheading what’s called the Sustainable Canada Dialogues. She told Yahoo Canada News that the goal — one of many, really — is to commit, as a society, to being free from fossil fuels and carbon in 35 years.

And, she said, it’s very doable.

“That’s a long transition that should start now, and we should plan for it,” Potvin said. “The action we will take will evolve as technology becomes available, but by making a commitment to that change, we will create the conditions for the emergence of the technologies we need.”

Ten years ago, we would never have thought something like Skype, for example, would be possible, she said. But today we’re video-calling friends and family across the country and around the world.

“We are in another world now in connectivity,” she said. “We could not have envisioned that 10 years ago. It’s a massive change that is happening. So it’s the same kind of change that needs to happen for energy.”

She said that what it will take is a commitment from all levels of government — not just federal, not just provincial — and from opinion leaders and NGOs. The paper is meant to create a pathway for all these actors and interested parties to overcome roadblocks they see to tackling the problem.

Every scholar who has their name attached to the initiative is fully behind the recommendations, Potvin added, and it’s taken them two years of work to get to where they are now.

The launch in Montreal will include a public portion, inviting media and anyone else — particularly the business sector — who’s interested to come and learn about the Sustainable Canada Dialogues, and then a closed-door portion for government representatives.

So far, organizers have confirmed representatives from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, from the Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and, federally, from Natural Resources Canada will be in attendance. France’s ambassador to Canada, Nicolas Chapuis, is also slated to be at the launch.

One of the recommendations in the paper seems simple enough. Instead of a north-south grid for selling electricity, the scholars suggest Canada transition to an east-west grid instead. The idea is to have policy that will “nourish” low-carbon objectives and help with the emergence of other kinds of renewable energy, Potvin said.

“If we keep selling our electricity to the US, it’s just a market. It is not a vision,” she added. “The US will use this electricity, but the electricity then is an income … it doesn’t become the motor of a vision.”

Pressing issue

The work of these 70 plus scholars from across the country comes at a critical time.

The United Nations climate summit in Paris at the end of the year has brought attention to the issue of climate change around the world and, in Canada, some expect the issue to play a part in the upcoming federal election.

But the Canadian government’s commitments to a global effort on the issue are still unclear.

“What Canada is submitting [to the United Nations] is what Canadians are asking their government to do,” Potvin said. Hopefully, she added, Canadians will be reassured by the work she and her colleagues have done, by their insistence that Canada can act and their claim that solutions are possible.

“And hopefully, that will generate enough interest and debate for the different governments to feel that they have to act.”