Unexpected Climate Connections | Watch the Videos

Experts convening to discuss Canada's unforeseen connections in climate policy.

On March 21, 2024, the Max Bell School of Public Policy hosted “Unexpected Climate Connections,” a one-day conference which explored the often-overlooked intersections between advancing climate initiatives and achieving policy objectives. From examining how climate action intersects with economic prosperity to unravelling its ties to social equity, the conference shed light on Canada’s challenges on its journey towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.   

Panel 1: Digital Connectivity as Climate Policy? 

The first panel of the conference, moderated by Matthew Mendelsohn, CEO of Social Capital Partners, discussed the intersection of digital policy and climate action, focusing on Canada’s potential leadership in integrating digital solutions into climate strategies. Sangeeta Lalli, Public Policy Director of TELUS Agriculture and Consumer Goods underscored the role of digitalization in emission reduction. She says that TELUS is converting their network infrastructure from copper to fiber optic cables, and in turn, “improving energy efficiency by 85%.” As this transition strengthens network infrastructure, it also facilitates sustainable foundations. Scott Ross, Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, highlighted the significance of digital connectivity for rural communities and agriculture. He emphasizes that “connectivity serves as a fundamental constraint for farmers,” particularly in managing climate risks and emergencies. Anna Kanduth, Director of 440 Megatonnes at the Canadian Climate Institute, spoke about digital solutions’ potential to inform climate action by providing quality information on emissions. Through this approach, these solutions can “inform climate action by giving governments high-quality information about climate impacts and emissions concerning resilience and mitigation.” The panel collectively emphasized the need for Canada to leverage digital policies effectively within its climate agenda, recognizing their potential to drive positive outcomes in emissions reduction, resilience, and sustainability across various sectors.  

Panel 2: Economic Development in Indigenous Communities as Climate Policy?

The panel discussion moderated by Marissa Nobeauer, Director of TELUS’ Reconciliation, Community Engagement and External Relations, shed light on the complex landscape of indigenous economic participation and climate policy integration. Kayli Avveduti MPP'20, Executive Director of the Confederacy of Treaty Six, emphasized the importance of direct engagement with rights holders rather than relying solely on national indigenous organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). She says, “As rights holders, we hear time and time again from our Nations that the AFN doesn’t speak for them.” Matthew Foss, Vice President of Research and Public Policy at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, highlighted the reality that “4 out of 5 indigenous communities in Canada still have median incomes below the poverty line.” He emphasized the need for a balanced approach to development. Jesse McCormick, Senior Vice President of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, advocated for a distinctions-based approach, stating, “When I hear distinctions-based approach, I hear it in the federal government context where they’re talking about Inuit, Métis, First Nations.” The discussion underscored the importance of meaningful participation in shaping climate policies to ensure sustainable development and reconciliation with indigenous rights and perspectives. 

Panel 3: Housing Affordability as Climate Policy?

This panel moderated by Mike Moffatt, founding director of the PLACE Centre, explored the possibility to achieve greater access to affordable housing while also adhering to climate-friendly practices. Rachel Samson advocated for “lasting affordability” that tackles both issues simultaneously. She says, “We need to start thinking about air pollution and traffic congestion,” as they are important obstacles in building better cities. Steve Mennill, Planning and Housing Finance Consultant emphasized the need to address over-housing in Canada, stating, "the average size square footage of a house per person in Canada is second or third highest in the world." He proposed policy changes to discourage over-housing, including reconsidering the tax-free capital gains on primary residences. Phillip Santana explored the potential of robotics in construction, acknowledging its early stage and urging consideration of environmental impacts, stating, "The robotics, though it's in that startup phase where it's not at scale to be a mass production solution." The strategies discussed underscored the importance of comprehensive approaches to meet housing needs sustainably, highlighting collaborative measures across sectors. 

Policy Debate: What Is a “Green Industrial Policy,” and Does Canada Need One?

The debate moderated by Martha Hall Findlay, Director for the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, highlights the diverging viewpoints regarding the role of government intervention versus market mechanisms in addressing climate change, with Rick advocating for a more interventionist approach and Kenneth favouring market-driven solutions. 

Rick Smith stresses the urgency of combating climate change by highlighting its tangible impacts, such as wildfires and extreme weather events. He argues for swift action, emphasizing the significance of green industrial policy in providing direct and strategic responses to the crisis. Smith contends that effective climate policy must consider diverse imperatives beyond mere cost efficiency, including security, competitiveness, and fairness, which market mechanisms alone cannot adequately address. To support his position, he critiques the limitations of market-based policies like carbon taxes and points to the success of green industrial policies, as demonstrated by Joe Biden's inflation reduction act. Smith concludes that given the urgent and multifaceted nature of the climate crisis, utilizing all available tools, including green industrial policy, is imperative. 

Kenneth Boessenkool presents a different perspective, favoring market forces over government intervention. He begins by advocating for the taxation of undesirable behaviors, stating, "I believe we should tax what we don't like, not what we like." Boessenkool expresses concern about the potential repercussions of eliminating the retail carbon tax, particularly its disproportionate impact on Western Canada. Additionally, he argues for the permanence of industrial carbon pricing, citing its design and support from conservative factions. Boessenkool concludes by critiquing a report on emission reduction strategies, calling for an evaluation of the relative costs of different policies to ensure economic efficiency in emissions reduction efforts. His overarching stance favors market-based solutions and efficient policy implementation in addressing climate change. 

This conference was the second in a series of ten annual conferences on policy issues at the intersection of the economy and the environment. Stay tuned on future events by subscribing to our email list - choose "Ecofiscal conference updates" 


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