Canada and Quebec have always shared the same inability to meet their climate and environmental goals. How come ? Lack of public access to data from critical industries for the energy transition would hamper decision-making and accountability in both the public and private sectors.
At present, we do not have an accurate and detailed portrait, either in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada, of how energy is produced and consumed, notes principal researcher in HEC Montreal’s chair of energy management, Johanne Whitmore. However, such a portrait is essential for any energy transition, as it would allow for appropriate prioritization of measures and investments.
Of course we know the main lines. Globally, the energy sector accounts for three quarters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Canada, it is estimated to be close to 70% of national emissions. The energy sector is a provincial responsibility, so we can divide province by province which are the main sources of energy and how they are used.
The data available to government researchers would sometimes not be much more detailed. For example, we don’t know if the electrification of the automobile is as effective in cities as it is in the regions, or if the use of hydrogen to replace heavy hydrocarbons will be equally effective in all industries in the province. We can only guess.
The Montreal researcher likens this state of our understanding of Canada’s energy system to that of a patient seeing a doctor who tells him he has cancer… without telling him where it is or how to cure it.
“We have the feeling that we are operating in the dark. At present, we are often told that our research does not reflect reality, as we do not have all the necessary data, says Johanne Whitmore. The balance of the energy system is incomplete. Yet it is crucial to initiating the transition. And it doesn’t, because there’s too much missing data. »
The Chair of Energy Sector Management researcher at HEC Montréal laments having to spend “too much time” contacting individual agencies and companies to gather data that Statistics should normally be able to provide to her immediately Canada or the Department of Natural Resources.
The problem is that Canadian energy companies are being dragged out. They qualify detailed data on how they generate greenhouse gases in the country as confidential. According to them, the disclosure of this information would make them less competitive.
However, many of these US-based companies are already reporting similar data to the US government. In the United States, the Department of Energy even publishes, directly on the Internet, through the Federal Environmental Agency, a dashboard that provides a detailed portrait of energy production and the polluting emissions it generates, factory by factory.
“There is no logic why this data is not also open in Canada and cannot be consulted by researchers and the public,” concludes Johanne Whitmore.
A “dangerous” lack of information
In 2020 the Legal government published his Plan for an economy green 2030. However, at the time, Quebec had not yet taken stock of its previous action plan, which covered the period 2013-2020. In June 2012, Quebec hoped to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 1990 levels, and by 2020 at the latest.
We now know that the target was missed, and by a lot: the plan allowed the province’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 1.8 megatonnes, while the target was 15 megatonnes.
In 2018, the government carried out a mid-term review to raise the bar. A waste of time: the lack of data made any form of decision for the future impossible. “The calculations presented at different points in the financial statements lack transparency, and the variations in the way they are presented make interpretations risky”, we wrote four years ago.
There is no logic in why this data is also not open in Canada and cannot be accessed by researchers and the public.
Since then, not much has been done to correct the situation, noted HEC Montreal. Worse still, Quebec’s strategy between now and 2030 substantially incorporates the measures of the 2012-2020 plan, “despite their general ineffectiveness”. To be successful, this plan must lead to a 37.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.
Will these goals be achieved? Difficult to determine, the necessary data is inaccessible. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, says Johanne Whitmore.
“Quebec has made a whole shift in health in just two years during COVID, but nothing has changed since 2006 in terms of energy,” regrets the researcher. We don’t have the same level of data. In healthcare we have been able to take measures, some even restrictive, while in energy we only give incentives. We will not be able to make the transition with incentives alone. The provinces and the federal government will have to join their efforts and we will have to provide research access to more detailed data in all sectors: energy, transport, trade…”