Towards a green energy future fueled by data with Andrew J. Leach of the University of Alberta

November 27, 2017

An environmental economist, energy enthusiast and passionate advocate for good environmental policy, Dr. Andrew J. Leach wears many hats, and that’s just to name a few. In addition to his role as an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Business, he also writes a popular energy, climate and oil sands blog, and has some 16,000 followers on Twitter—an unexpected surge in interest after what began as an easy way to communicate with students.

Today, Dr. Leach is one of the country’s leading voices on environmental economics and climate change policy, and whose research is informed by a variety of data sources—including Statistics Canada—on topics such as trade, shipments, and refinery activities. In his work, whether it’s with the University of Alberta, Environment and Climate Change Canada, or on Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel, Dr. Leach has and continues to identify where environmental and trade policy are informed by data and where new methods and increased collaboration are needed. That’s why he is a strong advocate for the use and integration of administrative data to drive energy innovation and business growth, and inform governments on important environmental policy questions.

“I try to bring evidence to bear on topics that are often debated in the public realm by stepping back to look at what the numbers are telling us. To that end, part of my work has been to identify where data gaps exist and to provide recommendations on how to fill those gaps. I do this by asking: ‘Where are we missing an opportunity?’ and ‘what does this mean for Canada?’” Dr. Leach said.

Getting climate change policy right

With research interests that span climate and energy economics, Dr. Leach recently gave a keynote presentation at Statistics Canada’s third and final speaker series event called: The changing nature of Canada’s environment and economy. Held on October 31, 2017, this special Canada 150 event hosted by the Chief Statistician of Canada, Anil Arora, brought together close to 100 academics, environmentalists, students, policy makers and community organizations for a discussion about the environment. “Many Canadians recognize the social and economic importance of environmental sustainability, and help to conserve and protect both our wildlife and ecosystems. Statistics Canada also contributes by providing Canadians with a better understanding of the country’s natural environment,” Mr. Arora said.

In his presentation, Dr. Leach discussed his role as Chair of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel and some of its processes during the province-wide initiative in 2015. Hearing from a wide-range of Albertans for their ideas on a new climate change strategy, the Panel published its Climate Leadership, Report to the Minister in November 2015, recommending improvements to the province’s carbon pricing program and additional policies to reduce emissions, promote energy efficiency and investment in technological innovation. More than 900 people attended the Panel’s public information and engagement activities, which included consultations with Indigenous groups, environmental organizations, academia and the private sector, and they received some 500 submissions from a varied group of stakeholders. The report received mixed reactions from some industry leaders and environmental groups who expressed concerns over Canadian competitiveness, while others said the recommendations did not go far enough. The aim of the process, the Panel wrote, was to position Alberta—a leading energy-producing province—as a policy leader on climate change mitigation.

While Dr. Leach explained how Statistics Canada data contributed to the report, he also highlighted a few considerations for the policy analysts in attendance, many of whom are regular users of the agency data. “Policy makers need to understand who their audience is and the diversity of opinion that’s out there. They also need to develop policies that stand up to criticism; recognize their potential impacts; and, do what’s possible to mitigate them. Most importantly, policy makers need to use evidence to support policy design, and have the ability to measure and track its progress,” he said.

Green data

Recently, Dr. Leach’s research has been focused on the relationship between energy and labour—two areas where statistics play a key role. While it’s important for researchers to understand how greenhouse gas policies impact the oil and gas sector on average, it’s also essential to have access to firm-level micro data to help identify sectors that could be at risk. To accomplish this, Dr. Leach is looking forward to increased departmental collaboration and access to statistical information, both at Statistics Canada and at other scientific and data-collecting agencies.

“Communities don’t necessarily consider the impacts of a policy on average. They care about the factory down the road where they and their neighbours work. The more firm-level data we have, the better the decision will be—especially now as we continue to move towards a low carbon economy.”

What’s in store?

As technological change and the sources of data continue to expand, Statistics Canada is ready to lead and adapt. The agency has already begun working in this direction by pursuing a more user-centric service delivery, strengthening its statistical capacity, and by developing and integrating leading-edge methods to expand on its use of administrative data. These efforts have and will continue to increase collaboration with both public and private partners to measure the production and use of clean tech good and services across Canada, and move our economy and society forward.

Dr. Leach is also looking forward to this collaborative approach. Like many data users, he recognizes the importance of quality information in making good evidence-based decisions, particularly where environmental policies are being designed, implemented and measured. “Data and projections are crucial to understanding the impacts of technological and policy changes. That’s why together, we must complement and, where possible, integrate data to deliver what Canadians demand and deserve,” he said.

To learn more about Statistics Canada’s program of activities to mark Canada 150, visit Telling Canada’s story in numbers.

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