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Why is Canada far behind other countries in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

It is depressingly ironic that, while many other countries are steadily switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources of energy, Canada’s federal and provincial governments squabble over building yet another pipeline to British Columbia—one that, with the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline, would nearly triple the delivery capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000. And the planned new Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry the thickest and dirtiest oil of all: bitumen.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blithely claims that this massive increase in the extraction of oil from the tar sands is not incompatible with saving the environment from global warming. He proudly points to his government’s carbon pricing policy as evidence of a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

He projects emissions will fall by 90 megatonnes by 2022, conveniently not mentioning that this reduction, even if achieved, will still be inadequate. It will fall far below the amount needed to meet the 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels of emissions by 2030 that Canada promised to achieve under the Paris accord.

Trudeau’s carbon pricing program also has serious shortcomings. Saskatchewan has flatly refused to agree to it; the Atlantic provinces are stubbornly delaying their participation; and Ontario and Alberta could drop out, too, depending on the results of their next provincial elections.

But the worst defect in Trudeau’s carbon pricing approach is that the price has been set so ineffectively low, rising from only $10 this year to $50 in 2022. To have any chance of reaching the projected reduction target, according to environmental experts, the price should at least be doubled to $100.

The grim and inescapable fact is that the Trudeau government has not improved the woefully deficient anti-pollution policies that have prevailed under various federal governments over the past 20 years. There was the National Action Plan on Climate Change in 1995, the Action Plan in 2000, Achieving Our Commitments Together in 2002, Project Green in 2005, Turning the Corner in 2007, and the Climate Change Action Plan in 2012.

Broken promises

All of these promises were promptly broken or put last on the government’s list of priorities. So were all the emission reduction pledges Canada made at the international climate change conferences hosted by the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and most recently in Paris.

The inevitable result of this persistent failure to take global warming seriously leaves Canada far behind other countries in making the urgently needed transition from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives. Instead, for the past three decades, successive Liberal and Conservative governments seem to have been competing with each other to see which could break the most environment-related promises.

The feeble excuse they usually cite is that Canadians need oil and gas to heat their homes, drive their cars, and provide many thousands of people with jobs. That’s true, but only because this contrived dependence on fossil fuels has been perpetuated by the abject failure to start providing Canadians with more renewable energy alternatives.

Unlike Canada, many other countries started tackling this energy transformation process much earlier, and in incremental steps that replaced oil and gas employment with jobs in their burgeoning renewable energy industries.

International rankings

The statistics from international rankings of the countries that derive the most and least energy from fossil fuels are informative, but can be deceptive. A World Atlas list, for example, ranks the United States second and Canada fourth in the number of Gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy they produce. (In Canada’s case, the source is mostly from hydro-electricity.) But this figure fails to compare Canada’s consumption of hydro power and other clean sources with its ongoing dependence on oil and gas.

Two other international rankings provide more accurate assessments. One is Click Energy’s list of the 12 countries that lead the way in renewable energy. Its 2017 list puts Iceland first, with almost 100 percent of its energy now coming from hydro-electricity and thermal plants.

Sweden is second, Costa Rica third, Nicaragua fourth, the United Kingdom fifth, Germany sixth, Uruguay seventh, Denmark eighth, China ninth, Morocco 10th, the United States 11th, and Kenya 12th.

The inclusion of the United States on this list, if only second last, is based on its large solar PV and wind energy installations. But, as the report points out, “The U.S. is also one of the world’s biggest energy consumers, which tends to cancel out much of its renewable capacity.” And with Donald Trump now bent on cutting or eliminating most of the country’s environmental programs and regulations, the U.S. is bound to drop off the list altogether.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are highly ranked because so much of their energy comes from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro sources. Costa Rica aims to be 100 percent and Nicaragua 90 percent carbon-neutral by 2021.

Uruguay has invested so much in wind and solar power over the last 10 years that 95 percent of its national energy supply now comes from renewables.

The U.K. is deriving vast energy from its wind farms and turbines. Scotland produces so much wind power that on some days it can supply 100 percent of Scottish households, and Ireland’s wind power capacity supplies more than a million homes.

China is still the world’s largest polluter, but it has also become the world’s largest investor in renewable energy. It is now the biggest wind-turbine manufacturer, and owns five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms. China is now fully committed to reducing its fossil fuel consumption and purifying the air in its heavily polluted cities.

Dependence on fossil fuels

By far the most accurate way to assess a country’s commitment to reduce its fossil fuel consumption is to look at the percentage of its energy that comes from clean renewable sources. This World Atlas list of “green” countries is therefore much more revealing than its MWh list.

Unfortunately, it ranks only the top ten countries, but since the tenth is Kyrgyzstan with only 29.5 percent of its energy coming from clean non-fossil fuels, Canada’s figure has to be even lower.

The top country on this list is Iceland, which gets a whopping 89 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Number two is Tajikistan, with 64.1 percent renewable energy, mostly from its large hydroelectric plants.

The remaining high non-fossil-fueled countries include Sweden, Costa Rica, France, Switzerland, Norway, El Salvador, and New Zealand.

Another World Atlas environmental list on which Canada doesn’t fare well is its ranking of the world’s 20 worst polluting countries. China leads the list of polluters, followed by the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudia Arabia, South Korea, and Canada, in that order.

It may be small consolation that there are nine countries spewing out more pollutants than Canada, when ten others on the list are emitting less.

* * *

Canada is undeniably one of the better countries in which to live, so it gives me no pleasure to find fault with any aspect of its activities. But as long as we keep bragging that Canada is the best country in the world and blind ourselves to its imperfections, we will remain wallowing in a make-believe paradise. We will lack the motivation to strive for the political reforms that are needed to make Canada truly one of the world’s best countries.

Until such a crusade is launched, however—unless more Canadians wake up to reality—our social and economic programs will remain inexcusably deficient. Our levels of inequality, child poverty, and substandard child care will continue to be national stigmas.

And, as much as it pains me, to this dismal scroll must be added Canada’s far from satisfactory performance on the environmental front.

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