Saskatchewan environment and elections op-ed
The promise of spring also brings the promise of a new provincial government. As the ground fills with growing plants and the new and returning MLAs take their seats in the legislature after the election, we encourage them to think about and the potential economic growth of Saskatchewan through political environmental leadership.
A significant area for growth is in renewables. Saskatchewan is the “land of the living skies” in more ways than one, enveloping some of the most sunny and windy conditions in North America. This makes the recent SaskPower announcement that by 2030, 50% of the power grid will be sourced from renewable energy both intelligent and hopeful. The benefits of shifting to renewables include job prospects to keep young people in the province and mitigating the risks of climate change (which is already having impacts such as flooding in south-east Saskatchewan and forest fires in the north). SaskPower’s next move should be to roll out a balanced mix of biomass, solar, wind, hydro imports from Manitoba and electricity efficiency measures, in order to replace the energy currently generated by coal.
Saskatchewan’s natural environment provides generous economic support to the province. The monetary value of ecosystem services including clean air and water, soil conservation, protection of pollinators, grasslands, forests and wetlands ranges in the billions of dollars. But these lands will only continue to provide as long as well protect them.
Saskatchewan has protected our grasslands in the past - in the ‘90s, the government unveiled its Representative Areas Network, which included a plan to protect 12% of land by the year 2000 (the target was never reached). The new government could help with this by recommitting to national land protection targets of 17% by 2020 as set by the federal government through the Convention on Biodiversity. There is also an opportunity to increase protection in the southern part of the province, where the province could step in and protect and conserve the thousands of hectares of Crown land that are in that area.
Not only does this land provide value to Saskatchewan’s preservation of its natural areas, it provides important storage of carbon emissions, lessening the province’s impact on climate change. This is especially the case for bogs, fens, and swamps, whose rich organic soil provide an excellent carbon sink.
There are endless opportunities to protect our environment while also providing a strong economic base for the growth of our province.
As we go into the provincial election, let’s encourage candidates to commit to protection of our natural spaces, for our economy, for our enjoyment, for our health, and for our responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint.
This op-ed was written by a non-partisan coalition of environmental groups (CPAWS-Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, GreenPAC and Public Pastures - Public Interest) working together to ensure environment is on the agenda during the Saskatchewan provincial election.