Speeches | Study on the Current State and Future of Energy Sector

15 June 2010

Honourable senators, I rise to make a few comments in follow-up to Senator Lang, Senator Banks and Senator Angus, Chair of the Energy Committee. I echo their sentiments and underline several points. I will make a couple of other observations.

This was a great international conference of 80 countries, as Senator Lang mentioned. It was not only an international conference, it is internationally renowned. It is held every second year in Vancouver, Canada, and is a powerful conference and trade show. It includes outstanding renowned speakers from business, non-governmental organizations, community-level organizations and industry. Private sector people in particular are an overwhelming presence at this conference. They are there for no other reason than the economic development opportunities, the business deal potential that can be found in the environment and the potential for environmental enterprise and business at this time.

It was pointed out to me at the conference that there is now an international market for green products totaling $7.7 trillion per year. That is worth 50 per cent of the entire economy of the United States of America. On the floor of this convention, one had the sense that there were thousands of people attending who understood that fact implicitly and explicitly.

The trade show was a particularly interesting feature of the convention, not something one often finds at a convention of this nature. To see the remarkable inventions that are emerging that are commercial and are making money was inspiring. These inventions come from around the world and many people are looking to sell them here in Canada, which in some respects is a vacuum for these products. To see the level of international development, commercial products and the results of research was also inspiring.

It was inspiring to find ourselves in the setting of Vancouver, British Columbia. Both the city and the province are outstanding in the leadership they provide, not only in Canada but throughout the world, in terms of environmental leadership, environmental focus and objectives, and environmental progress. Vancouver's mayor spoke at the opening plenary session of the convention and made the point that Vancouver is committed to being the greenest city in the world. Vancouver is currently the greenest city in the country and it wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

I had a chance to chat with the premier of British Columbia. It was inspiring to see his vigor and excitement about what was going on in Vancouver. Admittedly, this was immediately after the Olympics, but so much is occurring. The province has a zero-carbon footprint objective for their government. They have set up the Pacific Carbon Trust to develop the credits and the business that can reduce and offset the carbon that is being emitted in their governmental operations. The government has established a dedicated, specific cabinet minister with responsibility for climate change. That may be one of the first such appointments in North America or in many parts of the world.

British Columbia has a price for carbon. The province has a carbon tax. I do not know what percentage of the Canadian population British Columbia makes up, but that percentage, B.C. alone, is under a carbon tax.

We were right beside the major convention centre, which in and of itself is an icon to practical, environmental policy application, with its grass roof that provides all kinds of environmental benefits, among many other elements of that building.

I want to make a number of observations. First, I want to recognize the work of Senator Richard Neufeld once again in being part of this tremendous environmental progress and energy development in a positive, sustainable way when he was the Minister of Natural Resources.

I also want to give credit to Joyce Murray, the Liberal member of Parliament in the other place who was Minister of the Environment for part of that era. She and Senator Neufeld undoubtedly worked well together and have accomplished a great deal, within a structure where there is real leadership and where things can truly be done.

I will make some general observations. The name of our report is Beyond the Science, to capture the idea that people are not debating the existence of climate change any longer. They accept that it is occurring. They know that human activity is creating climate change and that they have to do something about it. However, they know that they can also, if I can put it this way, take economic advantage of climate change in the development of the new economy that Senator Lang referred to. However, they are looking for collaboration amongst government, businesses and individuals; and they are looking for leadership, particularly from government, so they can achieve a level playing field as well as some security and some sense about where they can go.

Presenters at the convention made the point that we have to look not only at how we are developing energy products and their emissions, and using them, but also the relationship among consumers, consumption and sustainability. We cannot lose sight of that relationship. This point relates to issues such as how to build buildings that require less energy.

Presenters pointed out — and this is important for all of us who understand and appreciate Jane Jacobs and the role of cities in the economies of the 20th and 21st centuries — that cities are the natural and central drivers and the foci for this kind of green economic development.

There was a good deal of support for carbon capture and storage, with recognition of the challenges there but a general sense that carbon capture and storage is one important technology that needs to be undertaken and perfected.

Anthony Cary, the British High Commissioner to Canada, a powerful speaker on the topic of climate change, made the important point, which I had not heard before, that every stage of carbon capture and storage is proven technically; the stages only have to be integrated and brought to a commercial level.

We need to treat talent as we treat other resources. This idea stuck in my mind. We need to treat talent in a way that ensures its sustainability. We cannot think that in acquiring the specialized technical personnel that we will need for a future economy, with their backgrounds and expertise, that we can always look to other countries to find them. We have to develop and nurture such talent here in Canada.

That point has been made by the leader of my party that there will be many jobs for which there are no people. We need to address that shortfall now. That same point was made at the convention by significant people in the business world and elsewhere.

The chief executive officer of Masdar, which is a power corporation in the United Arab Emirates, is taking responsibility to build a new city in the United Arab Emirates that will be carbon neutral, and he is selling and marketing this idea around the world. This country is not without carbon energy products. They have built their economy and their lives on such products. However, they can see the future and the possibilities. The CEO of Masdar gave a powerful presentation to say that they are finding a way to provide all the energy for this new city through renewable sources, and not through traditional carbon-emitting sources.

HSBC Bank is the first major financial institution that has become carbon neutral. This bank is not a small organization. If British Columbia can become carbon neutral with their government and if HSBC Bank can become carbon neutral in their business, it seems to me that the Government of Canada should set this goal with our operations as well.

It was interesting to hear the debate after the panelists had spoken. Among many of the interesting points made, one was that there should be a common-sense element to sustainability. One person put it this way: If dumping things on the ground is wrong, then dumping things in the air is equally wrong.

Another presenter said: There is no time. We are running out of time to deal with climate change.

I will add a corollary to that statement: We are running out of time to be in a position to capitalize on all the economic opportunities that will exist as countries begin to look at how to deal with climate change. We need not to be left behind.

This conference was worthwhile for all the participants from our committee who attended. I thank the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration for providing us with the resources to attend, and I ask them to consider that we have much more work to do and that we need their support in the future.

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