Canada has become a member of a key intergovernmental agency that promotes the adoption of solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has described Canada as an “important market” for renewables over the long term. Ottawa has been in talks since at least early 2017 to become a member of the group, and on Wednesday, the government made it official.
"The growing green economy is among the greatest economic opportunities for Canada in a generation,” stated Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi in a press release.
“Becoming an IRENA member will accelerate Canada's efforts to build a clean energy future that will bring new economic growth and thousands of new, well-paying jobs."
Canada’s membership in IRENA comes as the Trudeau government walks the line between supporting fossil fuel infrastructure and boosting renewable energy in the country.
The government says its decision to spend billions of public dollars buying the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project was because it is in the national interest.
But it has also proposed hundreds of millions of dollars for new clean tech initiatives, including riskier emerging renewable programs, as well as new tax incentives for businesses investing in wind turbines and solar panels.
Pipelines and fossil fuel development continue to be a major divisive issue in Canada, with a blockade against a proposed 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink Pipeline in B.C. triggering over a dozen arrests and sparking a nationwide solidarity movement this week.
Meanwhile, a pro-pipeline convoy of oil rig trucks and other vehicles that is critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policies is now hoping to reach Ottawa. The group has been raising money on a Gofundme page for fuel and other expenses.
Another pro-pipeline convoy has gotten support from an oilpatch industry lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which has been running advertising for the fundraising efforts on Facebook through a page that it manages called Canada's Energy Citizens.
In 2017, IRENA’s director general Adnan Amin told National Observer that developing major fossil fuel projects like pipelines will ultimately hurt operators and leave them with stranded assets, given that renewable energy is becoming more attractive to both consumers and businesses.
"The question the government needs to ask itself is if you are using taxpayer resources to subsidize fossil fuel infrastructure for the future, is that a wise investment given the fact that this may end up as a stranded asset?" he asked in the 2017 interview.
One year later, the Trudeau government made its decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline so that it could proceed with construction of the expansion project, which the operator, Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan, was no longer interested in pursuing.
The world’s top climate scientists say humans must derive their power primarily from renewable or non-emitting sources by 2050 if the planet is to avoid more destructive effects of climate change. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas creates carbon pollution that collects in the atmosphere, warming the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that in order to hold Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with limited overshoot, renewables must achieve a minimum 63 per cent share of the global electricity market by mid-century.
A recent survey from Climatescope by BloombergNEF of 103 nations showed the developing world is now driving the deployment of clean energy technology. New clean energy deployment rose over 20 per cent year-over-year in developing nations compared to a drop of 0.4 per cent in wealthy countries.
Canada’s inclusion in IRENA means there are now 160 members. Others include some of the largest economies in the world, such as the United States, China, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, India and France.
In short, the agency's objective is to promote all forms of renewable energy, taking into account national priorities and the contribution of renewables to the environment, economic growth and other goals.
In terms of its activities, IRENA considers itself a “centre of excellence” for renewables, meaning it provides policy and financing advice, offers training and education, encourages research and helps countries benefit from the transfer of clean power technology and knowledge.
The agency is based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that depends on oil and gas output for roughly 30 per cent of its GDP.
Abu Dhabi was picked to host the interim headquarters of IRENA in 2009, but the original proposal for such an agency came much earlier, in 1981 at a United Nations conference on renewables in Kenya, and developed throughout subsequent meetings in the 2000s.