Countries need renewable-energy allies to advance carbon-cutting developments

By Derrick Penner for Vancouver Sun
Catherine McKenna, minister of Environment and Climate Change, speaks at the 2019 Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation conference in Vancouver on May 28.

Countries need to co-operate in developing strategies to increase renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions to meet ambitious goals, a European Commission (EC) official said Tuesday at a major international conference in Vancouver.

The realization that countries aren’t ‘walking their talk’ enough to meet commitments made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement runs as an undercurrent to the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation conference, which is where finding allies is important, said Carlos Moedas, head of the EC’s delegation.

“One of the things from the beginning that I put as a top priority of my agenda is collaboration between countries,” said Moedas, the EC’s commissioner for research, science and innovation.

At a time when things are so politically difficult outside of Europe “we have to put more (effort) into collaboration,” using science as the “bridge-builder.”

This year’s conference has brought together energy ministers and top government officials from 25 countries, along with industry and non-governmental organization representatives to promote the development of renewable energy.

And Moedas participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the online news outlet the National Observer that talked about how to make progress on climate goals.

However, at the outset to this year’s conference, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest report highlighted a “growing disconnect between climate ambitions and real-world energy trends.”

In a statement to Postmedia News, IEA executive director Fatih Birol said only one-third of global energy investment is flowing into low-carbon alternatives versus traditional energy sources and “to meet our sustainable and climate goals, we need this proportion to reverse.”

“The Clean Energy Ministerial (meeting) in Vancouver represents a very important opportunity to move forward on these important issues,” Birol said.

In that respect, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Amarjeet Sohi, said being able to demonstrate results is one way to encourage co-operation.

“Under (the Paris Agreement) countries are committed to doing their part to deal with the issue of climate change and the devastation it will cause if we don’t tackle it,” Sohi said, “so I think the realization is there.”

Inside Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is under fire for approving, and then buying, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which environmentalists view as contradictory to the country’s Paris commitments.

Tuesday, however, Sohi said the government remains committed to reducing carbon emissions, which includes both doubling Canada’s investments into renewable energy and supporting the reduction in carbon intensity of existing oil-and-gas production.

“I think some of the work that (Paris Agreement)-member countries are doing can give hope that there are solutions out there, that there are opportunities” to generate jobs and economic prosperity, Sohi said.

Among signs of progress in Europe, Moedas said, was a recent four-day stretch in Portugal when that country’s entire electricity grid was powered by renewable energy sources.

And another sign of momentum, Moedas said, was attracting private-sector support from non-governmental sources such as the Bill-Gates-led Breakthrough Energy venture.

In a series of closed sessions, delegates took part in plenary discussions on how they’re demonstrating their impacts and increasing their ambition related to the conference’s overarching goals of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

On the public side, Canada used the international conference as a chance to promote its efforts with a series of incremental announcements related to transportation and renewable energy for First Nation communities.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said talking about the opportunities involved in such projects was “the exciting part” of her portfolio, which often deals with the doom-and-gloom of the global climate crisis.

On Tuesday, McKenna co-hosted a workshop, in conjunction with the environmental NGO Clean Energy Canada, on Canada’s pledge to increase support for zero-emission heavy transportation with electric trucks and buses.

Sohi announced $15.6 million in Natural Resources Canada commitments to four First Nation clean-energy projects, including a $10.4-million contribution to the Skidegate Band Council and Old Masset Village Council’s $30.42-million project to expand renewable power in their communities.

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