Industrial strategy and Kyoto implementation in Canada

Earlier this week Prime Minister Harper linked, for the first time in public, progress on climate change with a comprehensive national industrial strategy. He’s thinking big, and he’s on the right track.

The conflation of environmental progress with industrial strategy need not be overly complex. Electricity generation represents a fifth of Canada’s greenhouse gases (GHGs), transportation a quarter, and heat generation (particularly in Alberta’s oil sands) more than 5 percent. Together, these three broad activities pump over 312 million tonnes of GHGs into the atmosphere—over 40 percent of Canada’s annual total.

How can we reduce those emissions? By shifting more electricity generation toward low- and zero-emitting technologies, and by spurring consumer interest in hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. The government’s strategy should be to encourage these developments.

I have argued in these posts that the way to do this is to emulate the American approach in electricity generation (see Backing the winners), and emulate the Ontario approach with respect to hybrid vehicles (see Suing the automakers).

Ontario is an excellent example of what to shoot for with U.S.-style incentives in nuclear generation. This province has chopped 12 million tonnes per year from its power generation sector since 2000, by returning laid-up nuclear power reactors to service.

If the government of Canada were to follow this route and support Ontario and other nuclear provinces, it would achieve major emission reductions—guaranteed. But would it reap the political benefits? As things stand now, not likely. The media has been climbing all over the Conservatives’ apparent confusion regarding Kyoto. Two days ago Harper announced federal support for a major hydroelectric project in Quebec. Not a single story linked this to climate change.

Which means it’s as much about communication as about policy. But it is possible to successfully combine the two. I’ll elaborate in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

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