Seeking “fresh start” with Obama, Trudeau looks toward climate and clean energy
Author — Dan Woynillowicz Category — Carbon, Electricity
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“If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now. Not later. Not someday. Right here, right now.”

So said the President of the United States in presenting his rationale for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Many politicians and pundits in Canada reacted predictably: wondering what these words, and the pipeline’s rejection, will mean for our oilsands sector and what needs to be done to make Canadian oil more acceptable to an increasingly climate-conscious world.

But the more telling response was from Canada’s new prime minister. Rather than bemoaning the decision or berating the U.S. administration for its choice, Justin Trudeau simply registered disappointment, said he “look[s] forward to a fresh start” with his American counterpart, and moved on.

“Canadians want a government they can trust to protect the environment and growth the economy,” he said. “The Government of Canada will work hand-in-hand with provinces, territories and like-minded countries to combat climate change, adapt to its impacts, and create the clean jobs of tomorrow.”

In focusing on climate and clean energy solutions, Trudeau and Obama are looking for a “fresh start” in the right direction.

In focusing on climate and clean energy solutions, Trudeau and Obama are looking for a “fresh start” in the right direction.

Canada has a clean energy advantage that—if backed by political will and national cooperation—positions us to “lead by example” in transitioning away from fossil fuels, and to create new export opportunities that will see Canadian companies prosper in the global clean energy marketplace.

Study after study—from the International Energy Agency to the Council of Canadian Academies—finds that reducing carbon pollution to the extent needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change requires making clean electricity the foundation of our energy system. Not only will we use energy much more efficiently—squeezing twice the benefit from energy as we do today—but we will increasingly rely on electricity to fuel our industries, buildings and transportation.

So why does Canada have an advantage?

Simple. Not only do we already have one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, we have an abundance of renewable energy resources—hydro, wind, solar and more—available from coast to coast to coast. Couple that resource abundance with technologies that can harvest them at lower and lower costs, and you have a formula for successfully evolving our energy system to one that is resilient, reliable and climate-friendly.

If we seize this advantage other benefits can follow, so long as we are deliberate in pursuing them. As a trading nation, we must always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase exports to a growing number of nations. The clean energy sector offers just such an opportunity.

There is a near-term opportunity to increase the export of renewable electricity to the United States—in fact President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is explicit in its recognition that importing clean Canadian electrons can be used to comply with these regulations.

But clean energy isn’t just about renewable electrons, it’s about the technologies and services that enable their production, distribution and use. Think wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels, energy efficiency software, green buildings, electric vehicles and smart grids. A 2012 McKinsey study found that when it comes to export potential, Canada is already global leader in hydro electricity and a potential leader in solar power and efficient buildings.

A 2012 McKinsey study found that when it comes to export potential, Canada is already global leader in hydro electricity and a potential leader in solar power and efficient buildings.

And yet, in recent years we have been losing global market share in clean technology. Since 2005, Canada has dropped from 14th to 19th place in clean technology exports. We can and must reverse this trend by making the clean energy sector a trade priority. Back in 2009, President Obama established the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative, a model we’d be well-served to adopt and adapt north of the 49th parallel.

President Obama noted that “our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward.

For a time, “coordination” with the United States on climate change provided a convenient excuse to refrain from taking action of our own.

Now it presents opportunity, both environmental and economic.

And with a shared interest in capitalizing on the potential of climate solutions and clean energy, it appears Canada’s new government will find plenty of common ground for its “fresh start” with our neighbours to the south.

Written by Merran Smith & Dan Woynillowicz.

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