Generating electricity using coal and natural gas contributes to climate change and strains ecosystems. However, future strategies of demand reduction and intermittent renewables (such as wind and solar) are unable to completely solve climate change.
In partnership with the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, CSIP has embarked on a project designed to increase public awareness of the energy challenges and choices facing Canadians and to promote evidence-informed decision making on energy related issues.
Energy policy attempts to balance energy security with both energy efficiency and the reduction of harmful environmental impacts. Energy is essential to modern societies and the search for secure sources of energy continues to drive international trade but also to fuel international tensions. Economic development is always accompanied by increasing energy consumption and these increases continue in absolute terms even as improvements in energy efficiency reduce the energy intensity of new economic growth. And as we consume more energy we are aware of the social and environmental costs, especially the contribution of energy use to human-induced climate change. While each aspect poses its own unique challenges, taken as a whole the energy policy trilemma presents a complex and intimidating set of policy problems.
While the energy sector is a major contributor to the Canadian economy, energy production remains a contentious political issue with the potential to divide the country on regional lines. Not surprisingly, it has proved difficult or impossible for successive governments to live up to international commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the struggle to do so is increasingly driving energy policy.
To achieve Canada’s Paris commitments may require an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by the target date of 2050, amounting to an effective decarbonization of the economy. An energy transition on this scale, even one spread out over 30 years or more, will be socially and economically disruptive and is likely to encounter significant resistance.
In these circumstances, the role of government will be critical. We may also need to take a different approach to public policy, one that:
- maintains a long-term orientation to decarbonization;
- encourages and rewards innovation that helps bring the goal closer; and
- acknowledges that some industries and communities, particularly those in trade exposed sectors, will be harmed by the changes in store and will need transitional support.
Early efforts, such as carbon pricing with a built-in escalator to drive change over time are already attracting predictable hostility. We have most of the technological pieces in place for the first stages of decarbonization: the challenges lie in social acceptability and building long-term political support for the policies that would lead to their large-scale adoption.
The energy theme undertakes targeted research and knowledge mobilization to answer these questions and support evidence-informed public policy in the energy sector. It is organized around the three strategic dimensions of science and innovation governance that provide cross-cutting themes for all CSIP research, with an emphasis on societal engagement.