Report calls for improved dialogue on energy, climate

The last few years have seen relative peace between federal and provincial governments on energy and climate policy, notes a March 2019 report by the University of Ottawa. However, with recent political developments in several provinces, it finds the country as a whole now lacks whatever coherent narrative it had for an integrated, coordinated evidence-informed policy and a shared understanding of the way forward on energy in an age of climate change.

    Canada’s Energy Future in an Age of Climate Change: How Partisanship, Polarization and Parochialism Are Eroding Public Confidence cites developments like the popular local rejection of renewable projects, notably wind farms, and identifies a number of factors at work to undermine a common understanding of the threat of and approach to climate change:

• Growing political uncertainty

• Lower levels of public trust in government, industry and the media

• Growing economic uncertainty with regards to international trade

• Technological uncertainty propelled by emerging and disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, and

• The increasingly visible effects of climate change itself.

    For example, the report comments that “the space for reasoned discourse [has frequently been] narrowed and vulnerable to polarization by the choice of pejorative vocabulary” (‘NIMBY’, e.g.), while “[t]he successor term ‘social license’ reflected a more positive view, but went too far, often contributing to unrealistic expectations on the part of local communities.”

    Canada may be at an inflection point for energy, the report says. If it fails to tackle ongoing polarization, partisanship and parochialism it could spend its time “reverberating in a partisan polarized echo chamber with wild policy swings from one extreme to another.”

    The report offers a number of practical steps that can be taken immediately, including:

• Move away from parochial domestically-focused debates to a sober assessment of where Canada can be a constructive player in the global context, with global opportunities for Canadian energy.

• Make climate change policy as if energy mattered, and vice-versa, instead of leaving them in separate silos.

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