Opinion | Green solutions won’t come in time to counter Russian energy crisis

Next week, the city of Stephenville, NL, will be the scene of a mirage.

Justin Trudeau will be there, as will German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, ministers from both countries, local mayors, and plenty of well-funded corporate types.

They will be amazed at wind power passing by lashing the deepwater port, talking about hydrogen replacing natural gas and freeing Europe from dependence on Russia, making Canada a clean energy powerhouse and reducing emissions, all while Same time.

It will seem like an elegant solution to three intractable problems: energy security from Russian aggression, climate change, and Canadian competitiveness.

But while it’s not exactly the 21st century version of a Potemkin village, the timelines for all those ambitions don’t add up.

On the one hand, Germany, and Europe in general, needs to end its dependence on Russian energy right now, if the Western world’s determination to isolate Vladimir Putin and punish him through sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine is to have any effect. staying power.

Officials lined up in Stephenville aim to sign a memorandum of understanding that will try to reflect that urgency. They will promote a tight timetable for cooperation on clean energy and give many signals about how Canada’s economy can accommodate foreign investment in that sector. Trudeau and Scholz will get vocal about critical minerals, electric vehicles, and net-zero emissions in the future.

Good intentions will be on display.

But the reality is that if Europe is to make up for Russia’s energy shortfalls, and if the energy-driven inflation and global stress we see now are to be eased, low-carbon hydrogen and other clean energy solutions are only fully viable in the long term: years, not months.

In the shorter term, natural gas is increasingly seen as the compromise, the interim fossil fuel that can see everyone to the promised land of zero emissions. And even there, Canada needs a lot more work and money to reach its potential.

“A prudent approach to the environment and the economy would travel down two lanes simultaneously: accelerating the pace of energy efficiencies, renewable energy and hydrogen development, on the one hand; while on the other, also investing heavily in the decarbonization of proven fuels, such as gas,” says a new document from the Public Policy Forum, the culmination of many, many months of consultations with energy producers, environmentalists, indigenous communities and bureaucrats.

the reportobtained by The Star, will be published on Thursday.

The goal of all those discussions was to find practical ways to meet Canada’s emissions targets in a practical way that would also improve Canada’s economy. But the exercise of long-term thinking was seriously affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, an invasion that has plunged Europe into an energy crisis and caused inflation around the world.

And while there’s a lot of blue sky these days on how to turn Canada’s mineral reserves into batteries for electric cars, and how to use the wind to power hydrogen production and then build infrastructure to ship it to Europe, natural gas is much more close to actual.

Germany has made no secret of the fact that it urgently needs all the non-Russian natural gas it can get, and is putting heavy pressure on Canada and other exporters. German regulators said this week that households and businesses in that country will have to cut their winter consumption by 20 percent if there is going to be enough to go around.

Canada, one of the world’s top natural gas producers, has managed to respond by increasing its production, but only slightly.

At the same time, though, there’s a lot of talk about how we can eventually produce even more. The LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, BC, will be operational in 2025, fueling Asian demand. There are four projects in the air in Atlantic Canada, which could one day help directly with European supply.

The case for increasing it, even with the emissions that accompany the journey, is that natural gas is much less harmful to the environment than coal or oil. The world will need 30 percent more gas in 2050 than it does now. And Canadian natural gas, in particular, is cleaner than elsewhere, and it’s getting cleaner all the time.

All environmentally conscious Canadians have to do is focus on reducing emissions rather than targeting fossil fuels per se, the PPF report argues, and natural gas can buy us time to develop other, more sustainable energy sources. .

But it is not that simple.

If Canada increases its natural gas production, our domestic emissions are at risk of increasing even as we committed to reducing them.

While Germany is frantically looking for natural gas this winter, it is just as urgently looking for sustainable energy sources in the future.

“High prices and energy security concerns, combined with climate commitments, suggest that Canada will not be able to deploy new LNG infrastructure in time to help Germany and other allies, and attempts to do so risk leaving assets “, a new policy brief by the International Institute for Sustainable Development concludes.

Therefore, investing in expanding natural gas production at this time in Canada may not make long-term sense, either from a policy standpoint or from an economic standpoint.

Turning the promise of clean energy into something more than a mirage will require a confluence of strong policies, big money, international negotiations and a lot of ingenuity from the private sector, something that all the people who will march in Stephenville next week know only too well. behind their smiles


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