Transitioning Canada To A Low-Carbon Economy Requires A Permanent Multidiscipline Study Centre

Canada needs a permanent multidiscipline centre to analyze and guide the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy, says an economist with the Conference Board of Canada (CBOC).

Glen Hodgson, senior fellow at the Ottawa-based economic and social think tank, says this concept will be a key proposal he hopes emerges from a conference to be held at Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier on April 11 and 12.

He says that while analysis centers like this exist around the world, there is not yet one in Canada.

“We’d like to create that forum.”

Hodgson notes that while several opinion polls show Canadians want a lower-carbon economy, there are limits to how quickly that can occur, given economic considerations and especially in the context of the new American administration under President Donald Trump.

“We should anticipate the environment has changed,” he says, adding that it may be challenging for Canada’s economy to be competitive with a U.S. administration placing economic growth above all other considerations.

“We may have to rethink elements of our strategy, at least for the next four years,” Hodgson says.

“Most Canadians understand climate change, but they also don’t want to see their living standards compromised.”

There steps that need to be taken to deal with climate change that could help Canada’s economy at the same time, he says, including moving forward on existing carbon capture and storage initiatives and applying technologies in the oilsands that make projects more efficient.

A carbon analysis centre could help advance these steps.

It would be patterned after the Conference Board’s Global Commerce Centre, which conducts studies and produces papers aimed at helping Canada’s business and government leaders respond to the rapidly changing global business environment.

Recent studies have examined Canada’s growing trade relationship with China, prospects for a reshaped North American Free Trade Agreement and Canada’s “openness advantage” in the context of the new American administration under President Donald Trump.

As an objective body, the proposed centre could “help us talk to one another” about Canada’s best approach to its low carbon transition.

For example, it could help foster discussions between provinces about their different approaches to carbon taxing: British Columbia has a consumer-based carbon tax, Alberta recently imposed a consumer-based tax after having one aimed specifically at large industry for several years, and Ontario and Quebec have cap-and-trade systems in partnership with California and other U.S. states.

The new carbon analysis centre could tackle a variety of areas, such as the varied building codes in the provinces, with the aim of creating a kind of common language around the goal of reducing GHG emissions, Hodgson says.

The U.K. already has such a centre, as does Denmark and other nations.

The CBOC’s upcoming conference will explore the concept while also addressing topics examined in its new discussion paper, Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy, which proposes an array of related policy tools to be developed and enhanced.

Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will be the event’s keynote speaker.

In all, the CBOC has assembled more than 20 speakers representing specific areas of Canada’s economy including oil and gas, electricity, transportation, commercial and residential buildings and renewables.