Letter to Trudeau, premiers: Scientists tell politicians to rethink pipelines

Scientists have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers saying that spending on infrastructure for fossil fuels may not be the most productive use of resources.

EDMONTON — Scientists have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers saying that spending on infrastructure for fossil fuels may not be the most productive use of resources.

In a second letter to the ministers, a group of 50 executives from British Columbia’s clean technology industry has proposed a series of multibillion-dollar incentives for what they say is Canada’s next source of economic growth.

Both documents seek to influence Trudeau and the premiers as they start talks on a national climate-change strategy in Vancouver this week.

“We’re trying to bring our best perspective as to what’s going on in the global oil market and what are the good investments for Canada,” said James Byrne, a climatologist at the University of Lethbridge.

He’s one of 28 signatories to a letter from members of Sustainable Canada Dialogues, made up of 60 academics across the country representing disciplines from social science to engineering. The letter argues that oil prices have permanently changed, depressed by high Saudi production and threatened by shifts away from gas-powered vehicles.

It also points out Canada has already approved and proposed new pipelines capable of moving 2.3 million barrels of oil a day. Building those lines, as well as the oilsands projects needed to fill them, will cost about $120 billion, the letter says.

“Given that world oil prices are unlikely to rise, it is questionable whether or not those investments will be profitable,” it says.

“Just days ago the Saudi oil minister stated oil prices will remain low until high-cost producers, like oilsands, are forced out of the global market.”

The letter says renewable energy investments are a better bet for the future.

“Refocusing investment on renewable energy providers would shift oil and pipeline workers to building energy production systems that take advantage of Canada’s renewable energy potential. The transition to a low-carbon society and economy will enhance prosperity and well-being, modernize infrastructure, develop regional renewable energy sources, and create new businesses and new jobs.”

In their letter, the industry officials say Canada is actually falling behind in so-called clean technology, which includes environmental solutions in the power, forestry, energy, mining, chemicals, manufacturing, agriculture and transportation sectors.

They argue Canada has been the world’s third greatest loser of market share in the industry since 2008, falling from 14th to 19th. Other studies have found Canadian investment in renewables dropped by half last year as other countries register double-digit increases.

“The world will produce and consume more than $1 trillion of cleantech solutions,” the letter says. “The only question is whether Canada will be a buyer or a seller.”

The businesspeople ask for $1 billion in loan guarantees for capital costs for environmental projects. Their letter requests another $1.25 billion in funding over five years to support programs through the Sustainable Technology Development Canada program.

They want another $500 million for a renewables venture capital fund, as well as changes to tax rules to make the advantages already available to the resource industry apply in their sector.

They propose a national strategy on renewables be developed.

“To invest in a strong cleantech industry is to invest in a diversified, innovative, knowledge-based economy,” says the letter.

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