The following is an abridged version of a presentation that Keith Stewart will be making later today in Ottawa on behalf of Greenpeace Canada to the federal All Party Committee on Climate Change.
I’d like to begin by echoing something Prime Minister Stephen Harper said recently with respect to Europe, but I think it is even more applicable to climate change. He said: “we are running out of runway here”.
It’s a good metaphor. As you are probably aware, the International Energy Agency has warned that if we continue with business-as-usual investments in fossil fuel infrastructure over the next five years, we would lock in such high greenhouse emissions from all those new pipelines, coal plants and inefficient buildings and vehicles that it will be impossible to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
That’s a short runway.
What are the consequences of failure? According to the IEA, business as usual leads to at least a 6 degree rise in global average temperature, resulting in “irreparable harm” to the planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it.
The Prime Minister wasn’t advocating despair, or an “After me, the flood” approach of spending like drunken sailors because we’re doomed no matter what. No, he said “in terms of addressing some of these problems, we do need to see the broader game plan.”
To which I say “hear, hear”. For, as was made clear in the recent report from the Auditor General’s office, Canada doesn’t have a game plan to deal with climate change.
It is that broader game plan for dealing with climate change that I want to speak to you about. Over the last decade, Greenpeace has worked with the European Renewable Energy Council, the Global Wind Energy Council and the German Aerospace Agency to develop a blueprint for making the transition from harmful fossil fuels and nuclear power to safe, clean renewable energy.
We call it an Energy [R]evolution. This transition will take decades, but it is achievable using today’s technology. And it is affordable, with the cost of the investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy largely recouped through lower fuel costs.
Even without these savings, however, the cost of making the transition to renewable energy pales in comparison with the costs associated with destabilizing the climate.
In many ways, this green Energy Revolution is already happening. If you go back to earlier editions of our Energy Revolution report, you’ll find that we have consistently underestimated how quickly renewable energy would grow.
As a case in point, Germany produced a record 22,000 MW of electricity from solar power on May 25 of this year, which is enough juice to provide half of the country’s electricity needs.
Ontario, which has a much better solar resource than cloudy Germany, now has 500 MW of solar on the grid and another 1600 MW under construction, thanks to the province’s landmark Green Energy Act. However, the best solar resources in the country are found in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Globally, the electricity sector has seen more money invested in renewable energy than in fossil fuel-fired generation or nuclear power for the last three years.
Given our extraordinary resource endowment, Canada can and should prosper in a world that is relying on renewable energy. Yet our current energy policies would see us miss out on this global green energy revolution as a consequence of the federal government’s single-minded focus on expanding the tar sands.
The question I would like to put to you is: Do we really want to bet this country’s economic future on the world failing to stop global warming?
The riskiness of this gamble was highlighted by last year’s report from Alberta’s Premier’s Council on Economic Strategy. It warned that there will come a day in the not too distant future when we no one is going to want our expensive, carbon-intensive tar sands oil and if we haven’t laid the groundwork to prosper in the 21st century energy economy, we will be in deep trouble.
To illustrate this point, I would like to direct you to the backgrounder I have circulated. It summarizes the research in the latest edition of the Energy Revolution report that was released earlier this week in Berlin.
It details how policies geared towards maximizing the contribution of energy efficiency and renewable energy can meet our energy needs without frying the planet. This hopeful promise comes, however, with a risk to our current energy strategy. For in this scenario, there wouldn’t be a market for the high-cost (and more environmentally damaging) oil from the tar sands, Arctic or the deep ocean.
We’ve already seen this effect at play in a small way. In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, 85% of the oil projects cancelled globally were in Alberta because the tar sands are, in the IEA’s words, the “marginal barrel” of oil. As the most expensive to produce, they are the first to be shut down when demand (and hence prices) drop.
The latest Energy [R]evolution report explores the scenario of “peak conventional oil” and provides a detailed, practical roadmap for reducing global oil demand by around 80% by 2050.
In this possible future, renewable energy technologies would provide more than 90% of global electricity and heating, and more than 70% of the energy required for transportation. Achieving these reductions in the demand for oil would require investments in public transit, as well as policy measures to ensure new vehicles are much more energy efficient. It would also require that governments and industry work together to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles so that transport energy can come increasingly from renewable electricity – mainly from wind and solar power plants.
On the climate front, this shift to renewable energy would reduce CO2 emissions. After peaking in 2015, the year international climate scientists say is crucial if we are to achieve the Canadian government’s own goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, CO2 emissions would be more than 80% lower in 2050 than in 1990.
There is no technological or economic reason that we can’t do this. All that this requires is political and corporate will.
Greenpeace is happy to help generate that will, and look forward to working with you to do so.