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Canadian Science Policy Centre | Symposium - Supporting Canada's Energy Transition - Bridging the Gap between Fundamental Research, Industry and Policy

Symposium - Supporting Canada's Energy Transition - Bridging the Gap between Fundamental Research, Industry and Policy

Conference Day: 
Day 3 - November 9th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Symposium: Supporting Canada’s Energy Transition – Bridging the Gap between Fundamental Research, Industry, and Policy

Organized by: Queen's University

Speakers: Carolyn DeLoyde, Ph.D Candidate, Geography and Planning, Queen's University; Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations), Queen’s University; Monica Gattinger, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy; Praveen Jain, Professor, Canada Research Chair, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Queen’s University; Warren Mabee, Head and Professor, Department of Geography and Planning Queen’s University; Trevor Nightingale, Principal Research Officer for the Construction Research Centre, National Research Council; Ron Oberth, President, Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries; Laura Oleson, Director General of Energy Policy, Natural Resources Canada; Joy Romero, Vice President Technology & Innovation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited; Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research), Queen’s University

Takeaways and recommendations

  • Energy now occupies the nexus of economic and environmental priorities, a position very different from a generation ago when energy issues were not regarded as being directly linked with either the economy or the environment.

  • In 2017, Natural Resources Canada undertook Generation Energy, a national dialogue intended to glean the views of people from across the country on the best way of dealing with climate change, economic sustainability, and the affordability of energy.

  • Some 380,000 people contributed to Generation Energy, which identified four of the most desirable pathways forward: reducing energy waste; switching to clean energy; using more renewable energy; producing cleaner oil and gas.

  • There is no shortage of policy strategies for making sound energy decisions — the real gap lies in building public confidence to support these initiatives.

Changing perceptions of energy

  • The structure and mandate of longstanding institutions that were set up to frame policy, such as the National Energy Board, have been overshadowed by sweeping social and technological changes that have given Canadians a very different set of priorities, such as climate change or Indigenous reconciliation.

  • People responsible for policy and regulation, whose own mandates are governed by these same institutions, find themselves targeted by highly public critiques of how Canada is approaching the energy sector.

  • The language used to discuss energy topics has evolved considerably, along with more potential for confusion. Advocates for low-carbon fuels may refer to low-emission fuels instead, which call for entirely separate strategies and possibly different types of fuels. Similarly, advocates employ “clean” to refer to a variety of different products or methods, which might respectively be less polluting, create fewer carbon emissions, or use more benign feedstocks, but no one on its own will achieve all of these goals.

  • The energy industry has worked hard to make great strides, such as bringing the cost of oil produced from oil sands below that produced by fracking, while still observing ever more restrictive limits on carbon emissions.

  • Such progress frequently goes unreported, even within industrial circles; Norway was going to divest its holdings in Canadian Natural Resources Limited in objection to the company’s use of oil sands, but after a detailed explanation of the firm’s environmental impact, the Norwegians increased their investment.

Building confidence

  • The concept of energy varies across the provinces, from oil and gas in the west to hydroelectricity in the east. A common national vision of energy must become an integral part of any accepted policy.

  • A Generation Energy poll found that fully half of Canadians thought the country had a poor vision for the energy sector and for improving how Canadians obtain and use energy.

  • Claims of progress from the energy industry have little credibility for many Canadians, who want to see such information verified by credible third parties.

  • Canada’s oil and gas sector has been a leading source of new clean technologies, but Canadians are renowned for their lack of pride in domestically developed industries. Government policy should be aimed at highlighting these gains as part of its high-profile effort to create a “national brand”.

  • Such a brand must be based firmly on scientific foundations, ensuring credibility that goes far beyond a typical advertising pitch. It must be accompanied by efforts to increase public literacy of these technical matters, so that the science is understood and accepted by Canadians.

  • An energy policy that builds confidence will lead the transition to new energy platforms, provide Canadians with the ability to embrace those platforms, and secure the resulting changes in the form of standards or regulations.