On the heels of Canada's weekend confirmation of its emissions targets to the United Nations (17% reduction by 2020 relative to 2005 levels), Minister Prentice spoke to the University of Calgary Public Policy and School of Business today about climate change, the impact of the Copenhagen Accord, the importance of clean technology and innovation and Alberta's oil sands.

Copenhagen Accord

The Minister affirmed Canada's support for the Copenhagen Accord today and attempted to define, from Canada's perspective, the importance of the outcome of the December meetings in Denmark. The Minister remarked:

'What was achieved at Copenhagen, frankly, is not well understood. Neither is the fundamental importance of the outcome. That's partly because climate change has become such an ideological issue that media reports were often confusing, and sensationalized. And that made an already challenging process, even more challenging. The agreement forged during that intense two-week period in December, represents a major turning point. For Canada and for each of the other nations that signed it.

The Copenhagen Accord is what the federal government has advocated for more than three years and what we negotiated to accomplish for a year. And we firmly support it. It accords with the principles that we have enunciated, sometimes unpopularily, at the climate change table".

The Minister's confirmed that Canada has been continuing on the same path of emissions reductions and harmonization with the United States. He further outlined the major reasons why the Copenhagen Accord was a success for Canada:

1. The Accord has the support of the United States, meaning that Canada's objective of aligning our policy with that of the U.S. now has a reinforced framework.

2. The Accord creates a "functional, international community with one shared goal - addressing climate change in a principled, comprehensive fashion. As a respected, fully-engaged member of that community, Canada is not alone in facing that challenge".

3. The Minister affirmed that the Canadian Government under its current leadership is entirely committed to implementing the Accord, something that previous governments were not willing, by their own admission, to do with the Kyoto Protocol. Minister Prentice remarked that his Government "will act on the Copenhagen Accord because it is consistent with Canada's stated position on climate change and because it moves us closer to our ultimate goal of becoming a Clean Energy Super Power. It is also a practical document, one that acknowledges that there can be more than one way to proceed in addressing climate change. It accommodates the specific constraints of certain countries while allowing them to capitalize on their strengths".

Seventeen Percent by 2020 - An Ambitious Target

The Canadian Government inscribed its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the United Nations on the weekend: a 17 per cent reduction by 2020 from the base year of 2005. The target, which has been adjusted from 20 per cent by 2020 relative to 2006 levels, now exactly aligns with those inscribed by the United States to the United Nations.

In his speech, the Minister stressed the pointlessness of "Canada and Canadian businesses to strike out on their own, to set and to pursue target that will ultimately create barriers to trade and put us at a competitive disadvantage". He chided Quebec's recent vehicle regulations as being evidence of this "folly".

Seventeen percent by 2020 is an ambitious target. Why? Because Canada will have to "dig deeper to achieve the same end":

1. Canada already burns less coal to generate electricty than the United States;

2. Our equipment and machinery is generally newer and more energy efficient;

3. Canada's "cold climate and sprawling geography typically mean significantly higher operating costs for Canadian companies".

Technology and Innovation

How are we going to do it? The answer, according to the Minister, is to focus on technology and innovation. Since 2007 the Canadian Government has invested in a range of ecoAction programs, many of which promote the use of new technologies. In 2009, Canada's Economic Action Plan included billions of dollars in spending on initiatives like the Clean Energy Fund and the Green Infrastructure Fund. They provide close to $2 billion for the development of promising clean energy technologies and green infrastructure projects. This is in addition to the clean energy technology initiatives that Alberta has undertaken provincially - the $2 billion Alberta CCS spend, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund are examples.

The Oil Sands

The Minister also directly addressed the question of Alberta's rich oil sands reserves by reiterating Canada's support of their continued expansion. "[T]he oil sands are one of Canada's greatest resource endowments and developed responsibly", he said, and "hold the promise to be a driving engine of the Canadian economy, ensuring prosperity and a high quality of life for our children and our grandchildren".

However, the Minister tempered his remarks and concluded that Canada and Alberta need to be vigilant:

"The oil sands must be developed in an environmentally responsible manner and the Government of Canada will ensure that oil sands development lives up to our stated objective to be a "clean energy superpower"...The development of the oil sands and the environmental footprint of these industrial activities have become an international issue and as such, they now transcend the interests of any single corporation. What is at issue on the international stage is our reputation as a country. Accordingly, we need to up our game, in terms of both environmental vigilance and in terms of our communication efforts.

For those of you who doubt that the Government of Canada lacks either the willingness or the authority to protect our national interests as a "clean energy superpower", think again. We do and we will. And in our efforts we will expect and we will secure the co-operation of those private interests which are developing the oil sands. Consider it a responsibility that accompanies the right to develop these valuable Canadian resources".

All in all 2009 was a good news story for Canada on the climate change front. The Minister closed his speech with a list of Canada's accomplishments, topped by the success of the Copenhagen Accord for our nation. He's right. It was.