Climate change top of mind again

A primary driver for renewed attention in climate change is the upcoming December 2015 Paris Climate Conference, writes Andrea Kent. This column appears in the November issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Andrea Kent | October 14, 2015

After a significant number of years out in the cold (pun intended) having been overshadowed by a global economic downturn, climate change policy is once again top of mind for many countries around the world. A primary driver for this renewed attention is the upcoming December 2015 Paris Climate Conference, otherwise known as COP21, an annual international forum under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change. What is significant about the COP21 Paris meeting is many countries are positioning this discussion to achieve a legally binding agreement on climate, something that has not been advanced in the past 20 years since the Kyoto Protocol was signed at COP3 in 1997.

This multilateral process is, of course, highly contentious. The world’s largest emitters (United States, China and India) have long signaled that they would not accept legally binding reductions. This prompted the Canadian federal government in 2012 to actually withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. The reversal in many respects was indicative of the differing points of view within Canada on this topic.

In the context of the current federal election in Canada, this has certainly set the stage for serious debate over what direction the country should take on domestic climate change and energy policy as well as in the international climate discussions. And the discussion is not contained to the federal political parties alone. Many provinces have recently taken some form of action on climate change, whether it be a cap-and-trade system, low carbon fuel standards, mandates for renewable fuels or a carbon tax. 

In Ontario, this translated into an announcement by the provincial government April 13 that it will design a cap-and-trade system under the Western Climate Initiative, which includes Quebec and California. The challenge is obvious. The transportation sector is the province’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, accounting for over one-third of total emissions. Transitioning to a low carbon economy will require transportation sector GHG reductions through fuel innovation and diversification.

Ontario understands the importance of renewable fuels in reducing transportation emissions alongside economic growth. It is already a national leader in renewable fuels policy, including biofuel mandates and the very successful Ontario Ethanol Growth Fund. This has resulted in a vibrant, renewable fuels production industry in Ontario that produces about 75 percent of Ontario’s current demand for renewable fuels, removing the equivalent of 300,000 cars from Ontario’s roads from an emissions perspective.

For Ontario’s cap-and-trade system to be successful, its policies need to continue to support the critical role that renewable fuels play as a low emission fuel option. This includes recognition that by its very nature the renewable fuels industry is helping to reduce emissions. Therefore, allowances should be made in the cap-and-trade discussion to continue to promote the development of the industry and use of its low carbon products.

I anticipate that some stakeholders in the Ontario consultations will continue to argue that objectives between energy and environmental policy are contradictory. But as I have argued in past columns, that does not always need to be the case. The Canadian renewable fuels industry has long understood that we can diversify our fuel mix with clean-burning, renewable fuels in order to meet our energy needs, build our economy and protect our environment.

Since Ontario is not a major producer of traditional hydrocarbon fuels, although it is a major consumer, the energy-economy debate does not appear to be nearly as pointed as in oil rich provinces. This brings me to the equally interesting recent announcement by the government of Alberta, striking a climate change panel to make recommendations to the new premier on a path forward on energy and the environment. But that’s an issue for another column all its own.

Author: Andrea Kent
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association