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The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of Canadian Bioenergy Development

Lukuaika: 5 min.

Canada has a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality when it comes to sustainable development and climate change mitigation. It signed onto the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Copenhagen Accord only to fail to meet its obligations or withdraw completely. And despite Canada’s most recent signature on the Paris Agreement, its own report shows that it is currently falling short of its objectives. Stability has been shown to help bioenergy development (e.g. Blumer et al. 2013) and Canada’s inability to fully commit has left it as one of the world’s highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters.

While not perfect, the EU provides an example of stability and guidance for climate change mitigation and sustainable energy development. Substantially higher energy prices in many EU member states combined with an increasingly environmentally conscious policy have led the drive for green energy (Solorio 2011). The EU’s 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED 2009), a mobile policy developed to be implemented in diverse contexts (Albrecht et al. 2017), establishes binding objectives for member states but allows each member state to find context-specific solutions to meet their objectives. RED also calls for the development of an internal energy market, though resource availability and costs have led some members to look beyond the Union’s borders to meet their obligations and energy needs. EU energy policy effects thus stretch beyond its borders.

Climate change mitigation is done through different actions, agreements, and directives, such as RED, CETA and FQD.

Canada – EU Relations

Canada has traditionally been a trading nation and a supporter of free trade, relying on the export of natural resources for economic development (McKenzie 2014). Its most important trading relationship, with the USA, is currently being tested in NAFTA renegotiations. But Canada’s close ties to Europe recently resulted in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA was created to allow EU companies access to Canadian procurement processes in exchange for opening its markets to Canadian exports (Paquin 2013). From the Canadian perspective, CETA represents path dependent behaviour.

Canada’s Jekyll and Hyde personality also appeared during CETA negotiations. It ran a parallel campaign against the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), intended to reduce transportation emissions (Directive 2009/30/EC). The legislation would have classified oil from Canadian tar sands as ‘dirty oil’, making it difficult for Canada to export to the EU. Canada effectively used the ongoing CETA negotiations as leverage while emphasizing RED’s objective of security of supply and reiterating that Canadian oil did not fund terrorism (Rowell 2011). The FQD eventually adopted does not distinguish between oil types.

CETA also reinforces Canada’s export dependency in bioenergy development. Canada is the world’s second largest exporter of wood pellets, the majority of which go to the EU (NEB 2017). Paradoxically, much of the technology used in developing Canadian bioenergy comes from the EU. Also, the EU accounting system for GHG reductions only recognizes the efforts of pellet consumers, while the contributions of producers are ignored. While wood pellets are not currently subject to tariffs, they could be in the future as the EU looks to strengthen its internal energy market. With the global trading climate moving towards protectionism, led by the USA, CETA guarantees that Canadian wood pellets will continue to reach EU markets and reinforces Canada’s focus on exports while largely ignoring domestic potential.

The CBC: Canadian Bioenergy Challenges

Domestic factors also contribute to Canada’s failure to develop and use bioenergy. Nearly 80% of Canada’s electricity already comes from inexpensive, low-carbon sources, like hydroelectric dams (NRC 2016). Much of this is produced by large corporations, some of which are provincial Crown Corporations, who control the market through provincial pricing regimes that make it difficult for innovative projects with higher production costs to compete. Additionally, many of these corporations increasingly focus on projects for exporting energy and have entrenched policies that make it difficult to change. It is consequently difficult for bioenergy actors to establish themselves on the electrical market.

In the absence of clearly articulated and binding objectives companies are left to fend for themselves.

Canadian energy politics also restrain bioenergy use and development. The diversity of Canada’s natural resources and technological choices made it difficult to create a national energy strategy. It took three years of negotiations by provincial leaders to agree upon the Canadian Energy Strategy – essentially a statement about collaboration because it fails to impose any GHG reductions, which an earlier draft attempted to do (Taber & Morrow 2015). In the absence of clearly articulated and binding objectives companies are left to fend for themselves. This translates into fear of investing in bioenergy, research cut backs when financial troubles occur and a continuation of the status quo.

Breaking Bad

How can Canada get onto a new path? Domestic bioenergy use will not improve as long as it is cheaper for Canadians to use fossil fuels, unless regulations oblige them to do so. The federal government is attempting to cash in on this idea with a controversial carbon tax. While carbon taxes have become a common tool reduce GHG emissions, political leadership and prioritizing climate change objectives are more important than the financial aspects (Burch 2010). The contributions of bioenergy producers also need to be recognized in global GHG accounting schemes.

The election of the Liberal Party (centre-left) in 2015 represents a political rupture that ended nearly a decade of rule by the Conservative Party (right). Prime Minister Trudeau re-prioritized the environment, created the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Then, in true Canadian political style, he turned around and authorized the Trans Mountain Pipeline to run oil from Alberta through British Columbia for export, once again favouring economics over the environment.

Canada needs to improve its political stability through binding policy measures. It should look to the EU as an example of how to implement such a strategy in diverse settings and make a serious contribution to climate change mitigation and green energy development. If it fails to do so, it will just be more of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.



Albrecht, M., Kortelainen, J., Sawatzky, M., Lukkarinen, J. & Rytteri, T. (2017). Translating bioenergy policy in Europe: Mutation, aims and boosterism in EU energy governance. Geoforum, 87, 73-84.

Blumer, Y.B., Stauffacher, M., Lang, D.J., Hayashi, K. & Uchida, S. (2013) Non-technical success factors for bioenergy project-Learning from a multiple case study in Japan. Energy Policy 60 386–395.

EC (2015) National action plans. European Commission, Brussels. 5.4.2015.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017). Canada’s Seventh National Communication on Climate Change and Third Biennial Report—Actions to meet commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 5.4.2018.

McKenzie, F. (2014). Faith, fear, and free trade. International Journal 69:2, 233–245.

NEB (2017). Market Snapshot: Canadian wood pellet exports grew 46% between 2015 and 2016. National Energy Board of Canada. 7.4.2017

NRC (2016). Energy Fact Book 2016-2017. Natural Resources Canada. 5.4.2018

RED (2009) Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 23 April 2009 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC.

Rowell, A. (2011). Canada’s dirty lobby diary: Undermining the EU Fuel Quality Directive. Friends of the Earth Europe. 6.4.2018

Solorio, I. Bridging the Gap between Policy Integration and the EU’s Energy Policy: mapping out the ‘Green Europeanisation’ of Energy Governance. Journal of Contemporary European Research 7(3), 396-415.

Taber, J. & Morrow, A. (2015). Premiers agree on energy strategy with weakened climate change pledges. The Globe and Mail July 17, 2015. 6.4.2018.

Original article Canadian Bioenergy Development and EU Influences can be found here. Sawatzky, M. Alue ja Ympäristö, 46:2, 32-46

Matthew Sawatzky
Matthew Sawatzky

Matthew Sawatzky holds a PhD from the University of Eastern Finland. His research interests include energy transitions, forest use, the bioeconomy and sustainability. He is currently employed as a carpenter in the East Kootenay Region of British Columbia, Canada.