Nfld. & Labrador

Carbon has a target on its back at St. John's conference

A University of Waterloo researcher wants N.L. to reduce its 18 million litres of diesel consumption a year.

'We have to figure this out quickly,' conference organizer says

People gather for the Decarbonization Conference at the Signal Hill campus of Memorial University on Thursday. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

While Newfoundland and Labrador is seen as a national leader in renewable energy, researcher Nick Mercer says there's still far to go in eliminating reliance on oil and gas.

Mercer, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo who is addressing the Decarbonize NL conference in St. John's, said Newfoundland and Labrador could look to wind energy to offset a reliance on diesel fuel in about 20 remote communities. 

"We're here … to get the ball rolling on some of these policy changes to start rolling renewable energy out in the province," Mercer told CBC on Thursday. 

Diesel consumption in the province is about 18 million litres a year.

Decarbonize NL is holding a two-day symposium at Memorial University's Signal Hill campus in St. John's to explore a future that does not rely on carbon-based fuel. 

Mercer said Newfoundland and Labrador receives 95 per cent of its power from hydroelectricity, one of the country's leaders. When Muskrat Falls comes onstream, that number will climb to 98 per cent. 

Meanwhile, Premier Dwight Ball said the world will be using fossil fuels for a long time.

Delia Warren, of Iron and Earth East, and Brett Favaro, a fisheries scientist, are organizing the Decarbonize NL conference. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"There's nowhere in the next 50 years where we will not see … decreasing the amount of fossil fuels," Ball told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

That doesn't mean the province will not be working toward reducing its carbon emissions, he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change aims to have a 50 per cent reduction from 2010 carbon levels by the year 2030. By 2050, the goal is to be carbon neutral to align with 2010 numbers.

Ball said the government is working on options to do so and is also helping other provinces meet this goal. From the Council of Federation meeting in Saskatoon this week, he said assistance to other Atlantic Canadian provinces is on the agenda.

"Energy transmission and getting a trade corridor from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick so we can actually help [those provinces] get off of coal," he said. 

Conference to examine refocus of economy

Brett Favaro, a fisheries research scientist and Decarbonize NL conference co-chair, said there has been some debate about what role the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can play given the role oil and gas play in the economy of the province.

He says that's why the conference is focusing on building an economy that does not depend on emitting greenhouse gas pollution to make money.

"This is a transition that not only has to happen for the survival literally of human civilization but also because the opportunities there are tremendous for us to become leaders in this space," he told CBC's On The Go.

"We either figure it out or the world does it for us because there will be a point at which climate change becomes so scary and so overwhelming that it will be undeniable by the world's governments."

The conference is bringing together people working in the oil and gas sector, social activists and academics. 

Favaro said science dictates we cannot build any more fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to limit a temperature rise to 1.5 C around the world. That's going to be difficult, but it's imperative, he says. Decarbonize Conference wants to position the province to be a leader in rather that just follow the rest of the world.

"A lot of times the things that are good for climate are also the things that are good for us," he said.

"We have to figure this out quickly."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show and On The Go


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