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Canada’s plans for dealing with climate change and energy efficiency must be nuanced

The realities of Canada’s Arctic regions must be considered when determining a climate strategy that allows for economic opportunities.

Flying in to Tuktoyatuk.

After spending four days in the Northwest Territories at a conference hosted by the Arctic Energy Alliance I’ve realized more than ever that taking a totally anti-resource development stance when it comes to economic development could spell disaster for Canada’s Arctic regions. Everyone in the energy efficiency sector understands the urgent need for ambitious climate changes goals, but what needs to be done in our urban centres and in our more remote rural areas calls for different approaches.

At the Arctic Energy and Emerging Technologies Conference in Inuvik I was privileged to give the closing address on energy efficiency as the first fuel. I was struck that everyone who spoke was realistic, knowledgeable, and solution-oriented. Renewables and energy conservation were spoken about together as solutions to real problems. And real respect was given to the local Aboriginal cultures. The conference was filled with representatives of the World Wildlife Federation and NRCan, including Donna Kirkwood, deputy chief scientist. There were professors who teach and conduct research at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (Jennifer Winter); and consulting engineers like Elaine Carr from Williams Engineering in Yellowknife who actually design and evaluate energy projects in the north.  An old friend, Klaus Doring, CEO of Green Sun Rising who is installing PV throughout the Arctic, was also there.  And I met the impressive Alain Fournier, director, EVOQ Architecture. From Quebec, he made his first contacts with the Inuit of Nunavut in 1970 and has worked as an architectural consultant in Nunavik territories, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut since 1983. He has made over 250 projects of all kinds in collaboration with Inuit and First Nations.

Tom Gross, from the Arctic Energy Alliance at their conference and tradeshow.

While we all have our own personal stories about the signs of climate change it’s quite apparent in the north. The greening of the Arctic, and hence emergence of climate change is real – winter is coming four weeks later than ever before. And how they are dealing with it is interesting – it impacts hunting and local food supplies but it also allows for solar panels to help reduce the use of diesel. They are using more natural gas and diesel – electrical vehicles are not a practical option for the locals in sparsely populated northern regions. They are building a road to Tuktoyatuk and the Arctic Ocean to the south (which in this case means Alberta) that will allow for transporting things like much needed vegetables, and will help them cut back on using barges and ice roads. Ideally it may help lower the cost of food – salads go for $26, while a burger is priced at $15. (They’re also building greenhouses to help with that sticker shock and the need for variety when it comes to a healthy diet.)

Opportunities for training and the built environment

One thing that came to mind during the conference was that with our much needed move towards putting a price on carbon for our urbanized lives, to what extent could that increase the already high costs for people living in the north? We need to look at the opportunities that exist to collaborate with northerners. We need to examine the opportunities for training to help reduce energy intensity – including minimizing the use of electric baseboards, and improving insulation and the prefab houses that are built above ground. Practical responses will help address the realities of an isolated, Arctic climate. Many people still live traditionally, so learning about energy-efficient building contracting would be useful to the community. Homes are not built to last 200 years, but they could have a longer shelf-life than they do now. This is truly a real opportunity for energy efficiency.

Drafting a climate plan with a pan-Canadian perspective

It was interesting to see the admiration locals had for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. They recognize her efforts to try and deal positively with natural resources yet be aggressive on climate change. This is something they can relate to as they sit on a wealth of natural resources. Their fear of course is that their economic opportunities could be limited by climate change regulations.

Elizabeth McDonald and her guide in Tuktoyaktuk.

There’s a first ministers meeting in October where a pan-Canadian framework on climate change and clean economic growth will be established. That will feed into Canada’s plan for the COP22 meetings in Morocco. As a northern country with natural resources and a real concern for the future of the planet Canada needs to ensure there are nuances in any international climate change deal. We understand the plight of small island nations and the real fear of flooding, but we also have to reflect the needs for greener cities (the call for better buildings and labelling), and the needs of our Arctic regions. The solution will not be one-size fits all.

Posted June 27, 2016

Elizabeth McDonald is president of CEEA