How can the feds catch up with the provinces to meet climate change goals?
Joint collaboration among organizations and energy efficiency play a critical role.
Energy efficiency and climate change are officially on the agenda in Ottawa. What were the signs? For the first time ever CEEA was invited to the Energy and Mines Ministers Conference in August. No doubt this is all part of the federal government’ process to put a climate change framework in front of the first ministers in October, and then move on to November’s UN climate talks in Morocco.
There’s a palpable recognition in Ottawa of CEEA and the role its members can play to make Canada more energy efficient. We felt as if we actually had a collaborative role at the conference in developing actions to be taken on the built environment and implementing best practices. You can check out one of the working papers CEEA believes is important – the Financing Energy Efficiency Retrofits in the Built Environment.
Difficulties of driving consensus with the provinces on climate change
It is definitely positive for CEEA to be consulted on the energy efficiency file. But the federal government has a difficult road ahead of it to build consensus and meet its climate change goals. For almost 10 years the government had not been a driver on fighting climate change – it either made promises and took little action, or remained mute. The new government’s commitment to ratify COP 22 is a game changer, but it will be difficult to re-enter into the climate change dialogue when most of the provinces have gone ahead on their own by necessity.
Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and BC have all adopted climate change plans and carbon pricing, and they deserve recognition for that. Alberta will has a new energy efficiency agency as part of its climate change plan. Nova Scotia has a strong energy efficiency program. And Ontario in particular sees itself as being a leader on this, particularly on improving codes and standards. (Provinces without a carbon pricing system will have one imposed upon them by the feds.)
Economic challenges and green initiatives
So some provinces have been leaders, but another challenge for the feds is the growing concern that the economy is slowing down. Unfortunately when that happens politicians often sacrifice or minimize green ideas. Anything perceived as increasing costs to the consumer/voter can be held under the microscope for reconsideration. This week Ontario announced it was cancelling plans for renewable energy contracts to keep rates down for consumers. The economy is why B.C. did not boost its carbon tax, and it’s why Nova Scotia is holding back on cutting its coal emissions (and does not want a federal carbon tax). In Manitoba energy efficiency will move from one of Canada’s leading utilities, Manitoba Hydro, making it a separate agency. While we don’t know what that means yet, it is disruptive when people are concerned about money, jobs and the economy.
Global momentum on climate change makes collaboration essential
What the provinces have been doing on energy efficiency and climate change is indicative of a global momentum. It’s a pivotal time. In last six months I’ve seen more people begin to understand the role energy efficiency plays in reducing GHG. It’s no longer just about saving money when it comes to energy efficiency, the connections to how energy efficiency can lower GHG emissions are better understood, particularly as an essential first step. To take advantage of this momentum CEEA wants to ensure we bring the sector forward by working together.
That is why CEEA collaborated with the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Pembina and the building community on a national action plan for energy-efficient buildings featuring recommendations for the federal climate change portal. The joint collaboration has really opened doors at Environment Canada, National Resources Canada and at Public Services and Procurement Canada, among others. While it can be hard to work together in a sector where individual brands are important, that is not necessary in a public policy forum. In fact the opposite – we were encouraged to work together. Our individual track records on dealing with municipal and provincial levels of government gives us strength at the federal level and shows we can work together on solutions.
Standard steps to improve energy efficiency
Real progress is being made on establishing universal North American energy efficiency standards that were held in limbo by the previous government. NRCan is moving ahead with consultations on Amendments 14 and 15 to update energy efficiency standards on a range of consumer and industrial products – they will be completed in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Levers such as standards and building codes need to be in place to measure what’s going on. It’s difficult for a government to develop a solution if it has been lying dormant on a file. So it needs real information to play catch up. This can also be difficult to do when financial resources may be a challenge. It will be tough to meet the goals that are established. To exceed them would be excellent, but unlikely.
We need to look at positive examples from places where subnational governments have taken the lead. Massachusetts, Europe and Germany come to mind, showing it’s not a problem limited to Canada. The European Commission has a comprehensive energy efficiency directive for countries to commit and meet its 2020 EE target. As of July 2014 the EU was expected to achieve energy savings of 18-19 per cent by 2020 – perhaps missing the 20 per cent target by 1-2 per cent. However, the agreed upon framework indicated that if EU countries implement all of the existing legislation on energy efficiency, the 20 per cent target can be reached without additional measures.
Best time to be part of CEEA and of CEEA’s Day on the Hill
Internationally Marc Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, is a proponent of the potential for green finance to spur economic growth and fight climate change. He recently cited the International Energy Agency’s estimate that globally we will need €45 trillion to invest in power networks and energy efficiency to meet the UN’s goal to keep global warming to below 2°C. CEEA also believes energy efficiency is an important part of the solution. It helps control costs, lowers GHG emissions and creates economic activity.
Rather than believing green initiatives and energy efficiency must be sacrificed when the economy hits a slump, we need to position them as an opportunity to help boost the economy. To do that we need to bring our voices together – we know the federal government is listening. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to hear from national decision-makers on the opportunities for energy efficiency on November 21-23 at CEEA’s Day on the Hill.
Posted September 29, 2016
Elizabeth McDonald is president of CEEA