The Road Ahead – What Canada Should Be Doing on Climate Change

By Linda Hasenfratz and Hal Kvisle

Published in the Hill Times - December 13, 2010
Despite clear signs of progress in building an international consensus, the outcome of the latest round of UN climate change negotiations in Cancun appears to have fallen short of the target: a clear and comprehensive plan to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Many of the most contentious issues remain unresolved, including whether to incorporate the negotiators’ goals in a legally binding agreement and how to distribute responsibility for the $100-billion in annual aid that wealthy nations have promised to give poor countries to enable them to adjust to climate impacts.

Still, the fact that a global agreement has proven so elusive does not absolve Canadians of the responsibility to strengthen our own efforts to limit the growth of GHG emissions and contribute to the search for more environmentally sustainable forms of development.

What specifically should Canada be doing? In our view, five priorities deserve attention.

First, we need to get our act together as a country when it comes to climate policy. In particular, governments at all levels should commit to a national approach to GHG reductions and carbon pricing. The alternative—conflicting federal and provincial targets, plans and policies—is a recipe for confusion and inertia.

Second, we need a national vision as to the role that energy should play in our economy, and an informed discussion about the policies that will be needed to ensure that Canada’s diverse array of energy resources continues to be source of competitive advantage. Tough choices will need to be made, but there is no question that development of, and access to, reliable, affordable and cleaner sources of energy can be a significant contributor to jobs, government revenue and economic prosperity.

Third, the business community and the public sector should work together on a framework that can stimulate future generations of energy and environmental technology. Around the world, the race is on to find new, more sustainable ways to power our homes, factories, and transportation systems. Smart policy can help to ensure that Canadian companies win a larger share of the burgeoning market for innovative energy technologies.

Fourth, the federal government should seek to negotiate a broad energy and environmental accord with Canada’s closest trading partner and biggest energy customer, the United States. To be sure, Congress and the Obama Administration are focused on other issues at the moment. But that gives Canadians time to develop a more coherent view of our national interests, agree on our key demands and make the case to Americans for why greater cooperation on energy policy, regulatory standards and technology development will benefit both countries.

Fifth, governments, industry and other interested groups should strengthen their efforts to build a national ethic of energy conservation and a clearer public understanding of the costs and benefits of various energy choices. The goal must be to encourage employers of all sizes, as well as individual Canadians, to make smarter choices about day-to-day energy use.

Linda Hasenfratz is chief executive officer of Linamar Corporation. Hal Kvisle is former chief executive officer of TransCanada Corporation. Together, they chair the Canadian Council of Chief Executives’ Task Force on Energy, the Environment and Climate Change.