Pipelines for greenhouse gas emission reductions – the new Canadian social contract shaping energy policy, politics

A new public opinion poll shows that 84 per cent of Canadians think President Donald Trump made a mistake exiting the Paris Climate Accord, and the same percentage want Canada to remain committed to the international agreement to fight climate change. Part of the reason Canadians feel that way is they understand and support the gradual transition from fossil fuels to clean energy technologies.

Donald Trump

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Even Canadian Conservatives, usually staunch supporters of the reality star president, “are convinced that Trump’s decision was unwise (61%) and that Canada should stay in the deal (62%),” according to Abacus Data.

And that includes a majority of Conservative respondents – 53 per cent –  in Alberta and Saskatchewan, usually the least likely to support climate mitigation policies.

“There are few Donald Trump fans in Canada and his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Accord on climate change did very little to gain new ones,” says David Coletto, Abacus CEO.

“The overwhelming majority in Canada think it was a bad decision and a similar number think Canada to should press ahead and remain committed to the Accord.”

Trump is so reviled by Canadians that his decision to exit the Paris accord probably forced new Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer to reverse course and endorse the agreement, according to Anderson.

“Donald Trump, while intending to do the opposite, has possibly done more to galvanize support for climate action than his predecessors in the White House,” says Bruce Anderson, Abacus Data chairman.

But Canadian support for the Paris Accord has deeper roots than just distaste for the American one-man political circus.

Donald Trump

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Coletto and Anderson argue that “possibly the most important finding in this survey is the growing feeling among Canadians, including many Conservatives and Albertans, that an energy transition is not only good for the environment but probably sensible economic strategy too.”

As a journalist who has reported and written about the Energy Transition for the past five years, that conclusion feels right to me.

The tide is turning for Canadian attitudes about energy. I see it on my social media accounts every day, where the attacks from Energy Transition-denying conservatives are declining and more moderates and political centrists are embracing the idea that as new energy technologies mature and gain marketshare over the course of 50 to 75 years, the global economy will wean itself off fossil fuels.

The spread of this view in Alberta and Saskatchewan is good news, especially for the Alberta-based oil and gas industry.

Why? Because previous Abacus polling demonstrates that Canadians are overwhelmingly willing to support new energy infrastructure projects – like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast – if governments offset more oil production with climate mitigation policies.

Pipelines (and other energy stuff) for greenhouse gas emission reductions – that is the new social contract that is shaping Canadian energy policy and politics.

Donald TrumpIndustry groups like the Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipelines Assoc. can use the new energy politics to their advantage in markets like Vancouver, where the political culture is 180 degrees opposite that in Calgary.

The essence of the Energy Transition argument is that oil may not be forever, but while the new technologies are taking hold, which most economists agree will be a lengthy process, Alberta has the moral and legal right to sell its product on international markets and to get that product to tidewater.

Conversely, as long as Alberta is implementing GHG reduction policies like the oil sands emissions cap and fugitive methane emissions reductions, British Columbia has the moral and legal obligation to accede to – if not outright support – the Trans Mountain Expansion project, construction scheduled to begin this Sept.

Decarbonization of existing energy systems while developing clean energy technologies is the grand tradeoff of the Paris Climate Accord.

By rejecting the Accord, Trump is ironically helping solidify support for the Accord – and the Energy Transition and acceptance that oil and gas will be with us for decades yet – in other countries like Canada.

“Trump probably did more to mobilize action for action on climate change in opposing the Accord than any international leader could have done arguing in favour of it,” concludes Coletto.

Carry on, Donald Trump, you magnificent orange bull in a political china shop. Who could have guessed that your staggering incompetence as the so-called Leader of the Free World would stampede Canadians into supporting an international agreement that both builds support for climate mitigation and helps build political legitimacy for the Alberta oil and gas industry?

Donald Trump

Survey methodology

Conducted online with 1,518 Canadians aged 18 and over from June 2 to 5, 2017. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 1,518 is +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.