The energy transition culture shift is already here

By December 16, 2015Planting the Seed

Reflections on COP 21 Outcomes

COP 21 is over and the world has agreed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

“Clean energy has passed the tipping point, and its gone mainstream”

– The National, CBC

Sure, we could focus on the lack of legally binding emissions reductions, but what is important about the Paris Agreement is that the story has changed. The agreement marks a historical milestone in an evolving global consensus around the urgency, and inevitability, of transition to a clean energy future.

Here’s a line from The National’s recent feature Canada’s Clean Energy Race : “Clean energy has passed the tipping point, and it’s gone mainstream.”

On December 1st the Economist released a podcast interview with Premier Notley, from COP 21, focused primarily on the new carbon tax. A year ago every part of that sentence would have sounded ludicrous.

Under the headline  It’s adapt or die for Canada’s energy sector, The Toronto Star warned oil sands producers not to become the next Kodak, the camera giant who found its product obsolete after passing on early versions of the digital camera. The Star cautioned energy companies that “it would be a mistake to underestimate the speed of transition to a low-carbon economy just because previous energy transitions took decades to catch fire.”

Granted, coverage of clean energy and the need for climate action always picks up during COP climate negotiations, but the tone was different this time. Rather than focussing on the difficulty and cost of transition, these pieces emphasize the imminence of transition.

Canada certainly showed up differently to the negotiations, with representatives of all provinces and major political parties welcomed to attend and participate. This doesn’t mean that they all agree on the same approach to combating climate change, but it does signal a new willingness to work together. Canada has pledged to cut its emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

As explained in Chad Park’s What Does The Alberta Climate Leadership Announcement Mean For The Energy Futures Lab? blog entry, the context and outlook for energy transition in Alberta  was very different two years ago when the Energy Futures Lab was conceived. The recent policy changes give the Lab a head start, widening the scope of what is possible for its innovation agenda at a time when the global energy system is being transformed right in front of us.

It is difficult to recognize a rapid historical shift when you’re living through it, but it really does feel like that’s what is happening. Just as we’re kicking off the EFL with amazing policy momentum out of the gate, the same is happening in the cultural space. As the examples above illustrate, the public narrative is already changing, and the EFL is perfectly poised to strengthen and build on it.

Public engagement is a huge part of the Lab. Albertans are already among the planet’s most energy literate populations. With major media outlets laying cultural groundwork for the embracing of clean energy, the scene is set for the EFL to help Albertans engage in the conversation in a way that showcases and builds our global leadership.

Over the next few years, in communities across the province, people will be invited to engage with their energy system in ways they never have before, including learning opportunities and interactive simulation games that allow players to explore energy system interventions.

While the EFL Fellows make tangible strides in the form of partnerships, business models, and other innovations that directly benefit the organizations they represent, they will at the same time be examples, providing inspiration and a practical roadmap to the rest of the province. This diverse group will be a vanguard of innovation, demonstrating what working across traditional boundaries can achieve in the energy space, with their accomplishments chronicled and broadcast via organized and concentrated media support (including this blog).

As early adopters of a new model of collaboration, the Fellowship will be on the front lines of the transition, pushing the boundaries of the possible, and working to accelerating the mainstreaming that is already underway.

Tyler Seed is a communications professional and writer for the Natural Step Canada. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola in Sweden.