En Route to Paris: Shifting Sands in Alberta – the Energy Futures Lab

Guest post by Chad Park, Executive Director, The Natural Step Canada 

Disclaimer: the views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

Six months ago I returned with my wife and our young family to Edmonton after almost 20 years away from Alberta. The motivation behind my homecoming? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the Energy Futures Lab, an initiative so timely and relevant that there was no escaping its call.
How Alberta chooses to tackle climate change, energy security and sustainable development is key to the future prosperity of not only the province, but the entire country. The opportunity to be involved in a project that helps to frame that decision was simply too good to pass up.
From the shocking reminder last fall of just how tied we are to the price of a global commodity over which we have no control, to the equally stunning outcome of the recent provincial election, the signs have been clear that Alberta is ready for a new conversation about its energy future. Having met with hundreds of leaders and groups across the province in the last couple months, the most consistent reaction to the Energy Futures Lab is “Wow! Your timing couldn’t be better.”
The success or failure of the Energy Futures Lab will depend on who also cannot escape the call. On June 30th applications closed for the Energy Futures Lab Fellowship. As organizers, the design team now has the genuine pleasure of reviewing close to a hundred individuals and organizations who want to be involved.
As the profile of the Lab has grown over the past few months, so too has our cautious optimism about the response to our call for Fellows. But what we have received has exceeded all expectations. Sitting at the dock on Lake Temagami reviewing applications, I am stunned by the volume and quality of the applicants.
They include:

  • Deeply rooted 5th generation Albertans with profound love for their province;
  • Newcomer entrepreneurs from every continent attracted to the dynamism and promise of Alberta’s pioneering culture;
  • Oil and gas executives who understand that climate change means profound change for their business and want to be a part of the solution;
  • Provincial government senior officials from multiple departments with sincere desire to be part of a government that leads;
  • Municipal Directors thirsty for opportunities to leverage their community-scale efforts by connecting with others;
  • Aboriginal Albertans who see “energy transition” as a source of opportunity and new relationships for their Nations and communities; and
  • Young leaders who want to see Alberta play a leading role in fast approaching future.

Albertans want to be a part of something that matters, and we know that the rest of Canada is watching – especially in the lead-up to the Paris climate change conference later this year.
This desire is palpable across the province, whether we’re in meetings with Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Climate Change Advisory Panel Chair, Andrew Leach, or Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Wilton Littlechild.
More than anything, I moved back to my home province because I believed that worn out storylines pitting the environment against the economy and growth against conservation couldn’t possibly capture what was really happening in Alberta. Knowing what I know about its people and its culture, I believed that if given the benefit of the doubt, my province would surprise outsiders caught in their own narratives of us versus them.
Although the EFL is still in its early days the process has already proven to me that Albertans are ready to move beyond polarization and take an active role in shaping their own narrative.
The Energy Futures Lab Fellows will be announced by the end of the summer. Stay tuned for more surprises from Alberta.
We’re just getting started.
chad_parkChad Park is Executive Director, founding member of The Natural Step Canada and Director of the Energy Futures Lab. With JW McConnell Foundation mentorship and strategic support, The Natural Step is increasingly focused on partnership-building and enabling collaboration. This has led to the successful development and launch of a multi-stakeholder approach to tackling complex social and environmental challenges called the Sustainability Transition Lab.
This blog is part of the En Route to Paris series. In preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) taking place in Paris this December, we created a series that showcases Canada-wide initiatives promoting a low-carbon economy. The En Route to Paris posts will expose the views of experts who collaborate with us in our initiatives focused on ‘Energy and the Economy.’ Our goal is to support initiatives geared towards transforming the discourse on climate to illustrate all the benefits of sustainable development.
Click here to view other posts in the series.