There are many perspectives about the issues in our industry. And while we may not agree with everything that’s said, we always believe there’s value in having a balanced, constructive and fact-based conversation. As we look ahead to the coming year, we’ve asked three thought leaders for their perspectives on the industry’s most pressing imperatives in 2015.
The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect those of Suncor.
Our world is at a crossroads, and the need to address our collective sustainability crisis has been growing increasingly urgent. At the same time, various stakeholders have grown more and more vocal in their demands for answers and action with respect to the transition to a low-carbon energy future. Leaders are recognizing the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to address the complex and interconnected social, environmental and economic challenges we all face.
This has been the impetus behind the Energy Futures Lab – a collaborative endeavour between The Natural Step Canada, Suncor Energy Foundation and others to build capacity among diverse stakeholders, tackle sustainability challenges and create breakthrough solutions by learning to think, work and innovate together differently.
It’s all about bringing stakeholders together over an issue that often drives them apart. To be productive in the quest for solutions, we need to overcome the polarization typically wrought by energy issues. We need to move beyond the old ‘goods guys versus bad guys’ narrative, embrace a more collaborative approach, and ask, “How can Alberta leverage its position in today’s energy system to lead the transition to the energy system the future requires of us? How can our present strengths serve as a source of innovation for the transition? How do we move through where we are today to become even better positioned for what the future holds?”
Despite how the media frames it and what many organizations still think, climate change isn’t simply an environmental issue to be mitigated. It’s also a social and economic issue and therefore a strategic business issue. Organizations that have recognized this and are serious about acting on it are on their way to being ‘fit for the future.’
While Canada’s energy industry is certainly bigger than the oil sands, the sector has the dubious distinction of producing the ‘high cost, high carbon barrel’ in a world clamouring for a transition to lower cost, lower carbon energy sources.
In the coming year, the spotlight will intensify on an issue more Canadians need to think about and talk about – namely, what are the implications of producing the high cost, high carbon barrel at a time when prices are dropping and in a world where people are paying more and more attention to climate change?
Back in 2011, David Emerson, Chair of the Alberta Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, stressed that “we need to reduce the vulnerability that comes with heavy reliance on energy sales to only one market, the U.S.” In the year to come, finally figuring out how to reduce that dependence and diversify Alberta’s economy will be crucial – and it must go beyond just promoting oil sands to new customers.
With hotly contested pipeline proposals and dropping oil prices, we need to take a hard and honest look at our role in satisfying global demand for energy, and the risks that Canada’s singular focus on expanding the oil sands poses for our economic growth and resiliency looking forward.
Recently in Toronto, Carbon Tracker's James Leaton addressed an audience of investors about the risk of a ‘carbon bubble’ – the potential for investment in sectors like the oil sands to become stranded as demand moves to cleaner energy sources. It emphatically underscored the fact that as Canadians, we need to pay attention to the risks posed by producing the high cost, high carbon barrel while neglecting the growing economic opportunities in other sectors. If we want a smooth landing in the transition to a lower carbon energy future rather than a rough and painful one, we need to create space to have the conversation.
The greatest challenge currently facing the energy sector is much larger than the price of oil and much deeper than the success or failure of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
It’s fear of change.
The prevailing sentiment is that a transition to energy sources other than oil and gas is a massive, almost impossible challenge as opposed to a great opportunity for our country to emerge as a global leader. We need to clear the hurdle of ‘the way we’ve always done it’ and lead the way toward where we’re going.
The shift to a lower carbon energy future won’t be abrupt and monumental. It will happen over time. And it will require a tremendous amount of capital, vision and determination. The sector needs to be open to alternatives and consider how we can use our oil wealth to diversify our portfolio of energy sources and shape a more sustainable energy future.
The important thing to remember is that oil companies aren’t oil companies. They’re energy companies. Barrels of oil are simply the means to an end, and that end is the better quality of life that easy access to affordable energy provides. So the energy sector’s most pressing question is “How can we creatively achieve the same outcome with less reliance on fossil fuels?”