Aligning science, society and policy for the energy transition

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2020

Author: Ginny Flood

Chair, Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)

On November 17, 2020, the ISSP hosted a panel entitled Aligning Science, Society and Policy for the Grand Challenges of our Time at the Canadian Science Policy Conference. This blog is an adaptation of the author’s remarks. 

Canada’s energy future will be very different than we know it today. The future will include both clean hydrocarbon energy and renewable resources. It is vital that our policy environment allows for diverse and inclusive pathways built through collaboration to achieve our Paris targets and beyond. 

Policy will shape how we approach the grand challenge of reaching net-zero, and it will also inform public perceptions. In 2015, I moved to Alberta to join the oil and gas sector and have come to understand the diverse views that drive conversations about oil and gas and the energy transition.  

I believe we need be open to all solutions, rather than choosing one way over the other. If we put all of our eggs in one basket, limit our pathways, and mandate specific outcomes, it cuts off opportunities and innovation. An inclusive approach includes Canada's oil and gas companies, who spend more annually on clean tech innovation than most other sectors. At the same time, we also have to realize that it is not just one sector, region or group that will drive emissions reductions. We must ask how policy can support diverse, collaborative and science-intensive efforts. 

We're stronger working together. This is the philosophy we have adopted at the Clean Resource Innovation Network(CRIN). Our approach is a Team Canada approach, focused on diversity and inclusion across all sectors, regions and perspectives. 

We are bringing in a multitude of different interests that traditionally wouldn't sit at the same tables to talk about clean energy innovation. We are connecting oil and gas with academia, governments, investors, incubators, SMEs, clean tech companies, and Indigenous communities and businesses, with a focus on accelerating the research, development, deployment, and most importantly, the commercialization of clean technologies. We are a convenor, a connector of the nodes within our innovation ecosystem. 

Policy development has become increasingly complex and societal expectations are evolving. I often see science and data being used as a tool to support or oppose a specific policy direction, which can create a perception of misalignment between the science, society and policy imperatives. But if we can agree on desired outcomes, then innovation and policy can work together to provide the path of least resistance. While developing new climate and environmental policies, governments should focus on outcomes (i.e., reducing GHG emissions) rather than picking winners and losers.

We can think about this in concrete terms. Canadians understand climate change is real, but their opinions on how to reduce emissions vary significantly across Canada. For provinces that have significant renewable energy, it makes a lot of sense to advocate for electrification. But for resource-rich provinces, their pathways to reducing emissions are very different. Traditional sectors like agriculture, mining and oil and gas are all investing in technologies to reduce emissions. However, the public perceptions and the public acceptability of these approaches differ greatly. 

Our focus needs to be on reducing emissions across all regions and sectors to achieve sustainable, long-term impacts.

That is the real challenge of this polarizing debate; we need diverse groups to approach these challenges together. Innovations in our energy sector will effectively contribute to reducing emissions, and be applicable for other sectors, when they are broad, inclusive and pan-Canadian.

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