A panel on sustainability told the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas conference Wednesday morning that Canada needs to prepare better for the "mother and father of all energy crunches."
"Climate change as a phenomenon isn't just an environmental phenomenon, it's an economic phenomenon," said David McLaughlin, president and CEO of the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, a federally funded agency that researches sustainable development.
McLaughlin said the agency will release a report this fall on the economic cost of inaction, and in the meantime he had three points for the audience.
"Climate change is real, and it's happening. We need to get over it, and deal with it. And dealing with it is not just mitigation, getting emissions down - which has dominated the public policy and political conversation for many years, legitimately - it's also adaptation. ...
Because the stuff that's already up there is going to have some knock-on effects and do some things even before we start to come to grips with reducing the emission profile going forward."
The second point, he said, is that industry can grow even in a low-carbon world, he said.
"Low-carbon is about actually different ways of economic growth, different kinds of opportunities," he said, pointing to the province's Lower Churchill project as an example.
The third point was that sustainability will be an increasingly integral part of business, he said, in both companies' bottom lines and "social licence to operate."
McLaughlin called on Canada to lead the way in innovation, adding the private sector needs to do more, while the government needs to provide more incentives to provide incentives for the private sector to do so.
Jeremy Leggett, described as "Britain's most respected green energy boss" as the founder of Solarcentury, which builds solar power plants, drew on neuroscience to discuss the ways people become entrenched in their own belief systems.
"We tend very quickly to form belief systems ... we institutionalize them and we become often impervious to rational argument," he said, leading into the two "tribal views" on climate change: people who believe there's nothing to worry about versus those who are working to reduce emissions.
"We believe the latter narrative. We have persuaded ourselves of that. We haven't persuaded the rest of our industrial colleagues, we haven't persuaded the government yet," he said.
"Let's hope we're wrong, and it is a risk equation. But it overlays the debate significantly, because if we're right, there's going to be the mother and father of all energy crunches on our watch within a few years, we think by 2015 at the latest, and we will be forced to accelerate the clean-energy technologies whether we want to for climate reasons or not."
But for David Collyer, though, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, there's a need for all energy sources - renewables and non-renewables - and the polarization of the climate-change debate is preventing progress being made towards more sustainable development.
"Global energy demand is going to increase appreciably. That's driven by population growth increases and it's driven by the aspirations of the developing world for a much higher standard of living than they enjoy today," he said.
"I think, in that context, it's reasonable to expect that we'll need all forms of energy developed responsibly."
He said he thinks it will be more of a struggle to meet energy demand than people expect.
"We need to move away from this ongoing debate, if you will, about which form of energy is better, and I think direct our efforts to instead trying to figure out how to develop the diversity of energy resources we've got more responsibly than we are today," he said.
Charles Emmerson, senior research fellow in energy and the environment for an international affairs think tank, spoke about the various loaded meanings of the word "sustainability" itself.
"Every time I hear the word I'm conscious that perhaps it's being used with a slightly subtly different meaning. Sometimes the word 'sustainability' in effect environmental protection, sometimes it means we ought to think long term ... for still others in a commercial context it refers to an assurance of profitability over the lifetime of an investment," he said, adding that one person's sustainability can be another person's red tape.
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