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Pipeline opposition isn't really about climate change, Canada West Foundation finds

If you think opposition to pipelines is driven mainly by concerns over climate change, you're wrong, according to a new study from the Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa.

More local concerns tend to drive opponents of energy projects, in general, from hydro dams to wind farms

The study from the Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa looked at six different energy-related projects across the country. (Canada West Foundation)

If you think opposition to pipelines is driven mainly by concerns over climate change, you're wrong, according to a new study from the Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa.

Their report, released Thursday, involved six case studies of major energy projects across the country that found similarities among the local opposition each encountered, whether it was an oil pipeline, a hydro dam or a wind farm.

"Our new research shows ... that the nature of this opposition, and the underlying concerns, are often not what opinion leaders and political decision-makers have assumed," the report reads.

"Importantly, local opposition is not restricted to pipelines and oilsands, and it is often not about climate change."

Other factors turned out be "far more important," according to the research.

Those factors include how safe a project is perceived to be, how necessary it is perceived to be, how the benefits would be distributed, how the local environment would be impacted, how the proponents communicate with the public and how much the community is involved in decision-making.

"From shale gas exploration on the East Coast to wind farms in central Canada to a proposed pipeline terminus on the West Coast, local authorities and communities are demanding an increasing role in how economic and environmental decisions by third parties affect their future," the report reads.

"One thing seems very clear: The world of elite, centralized decision-making without local engagement is fast becoming a thing of the past."

The report recommends a complete "rethink" of how energy projects are proposed, communicated and regulated — and it's not as simple as sharing the wealth more broadly.

"There are cases where deeply held values — such as a natural environment, traditional lifestyles or the importance of being treated openly and fairly — dominate community views," the report reads.

"It is clear that speaking to economic interests alone will not shake people from these values."

It's also important for proponents to consider the context in which projects are proposed, the report notes, as local experiences with previous proposals can shade how future undertakings are perceived, even if they have little in common.

"We need to build flexibility and understanding into processes to respond to diverse realities," the report reads.

"Engaging the community should be about more than notices and a few town hall meetings. It should involve real consultation with the possibility that plans may change."

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