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Canada: From Climate Pariah to Climate Champion?

I’m typically writing from a more global perspective, but there’s palpable excitement in the air in Canada to report on.

But wait — didn’t I write last year about Canada’s pathetic lack of almost any presence at the UN Sustainable Energy for All conference?

For the past 10 years, the people had to endure a government that saw Canada’s economic future as simply “North Saudia Arabia”, that negated Canada’s agreed-upon climate obligations, that obstructed global climate change negotiations, and that was taking no initiatives on renewable energy.

But the recently-elected government of new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is giving Canada an energy and climate makeover.

[Yes, that is the same Prime Minister that got kudos around the world for his gender-balanced cabinet (“because its 2015”), as well as the one that gets written up in Vogue as one of the sexiest men alive.]

I held off commenting on the new government’s energy and climate policy, despite promises in the electoral platform, because electoral rhetoric is one thing, and actually taking action is another. The Ministry of the Environment was renamed “Environment and Climate Change”, which was a good step, but I wanted to see the meat (I’m known to be a bit pessimistic sometimes on politics…).

Well, the government is starting to walk the walk.

Last week, the Prime Minister and the provinces agreed to a climate change action plan, entitled the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The aim is to have some sort of price on carbon across the country. Feel free to read about it, but truth be told the plans are a bit vague. What is very promising though is that the federal government has stated that if the provinces cannot get their act together in short order, they will just impose a carbon price from above. Which is putting their money where their mouth is.

So it’s exciting!

So many things to wish for… While I intend to write more articles on progress here, let me start with the first wish-list item: bringing back RETScreen to its former glory.

RETscreen is a renewable energy project financial software, developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources 20 years ago, was the world’s go-to renewable energy software. I learned to use it in my Masters in Germany over 10 years ago (and also had no idea at the time that Canada had even developed it). Everyone praised Canada for having developed it, and I was pretty proud about it. But fast forward 10 years with little interest from the previous government in advancing it, it no longer even have its own website anymore! It’s on some lame government back page now. Compare this to success of software like HOMER spun-off from the US government’s Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The RETScreen sad irrelevance is emblematic of everything that was wrong with the government for the last decade. And it also serves as an important reminder though: when you are “out of it” for too long, the world advances way past you. That’s where Canada is now. It has a lot of catching up to do on climate and energy, as other countries have taken up the torch and moved along (e.g. Germany, among many others). To actually become a leader is going to take a lot of work.

So is this the beginning of the sea-change we’ve been waiting for in Canada? I really do hope so, and I’m quite optimistic for the first time. A supportive federal government can enable a whole lot more renewable energy development in this country. Let’s keep moving forward!

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  1. Oleg says:

    Welcome back to the blogosphere – good to have you back and focused on relevant issues…
    Justin’s initial round of actions yields optimism, I’d agree. He seems to have also figured out that ‘pretty boy’ beats ‘old geezer’ for a public face.
    BUT, hope is not a strategy! So far, Canadians have done little to ‘skate to where the puck is going’. And, it remains unclear what it will take to achieve broader public buy-in..Maybe Canada can follow the model of other countries and implement proven, yet aggressive policies? Clearly, a progressive climate change action plan must also catalyze the economy…
    This is serious stuff, as we all know. It requires bold moves, starting with an urgent transition from political rhetoric to strong public policy…Hope you’ll find the time to cover the progress!

    • Thanks Oleg! I completely concur. Unfortunately politicians often fail to transition from “political rhetoric to strong public policy”, but I’m keeping optimistic for now!

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