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Balancing Energy Security And Sustainability: A Struggle For Equilibrium

Energy security is an increasingly crucial factor in upholding all aspects of stable economic and social activity.

It is one of the most critical components of the transition towards sustainable energy sources, though sometimes overlooked. Energy security is underpinned by a country’s ability to maintain access to a reliable energy supply and a resilient energy system. These two aspects of energy security have come under threat from various challenges recently, which could worsen with time.

Threats to energy security due to climate change, geopolitical instability, supply chain constraints and cybersecurity risks will be a significant hurdle for nations seeking to reach net zero by 2050. Successfully maintaining energy security while balancing it with other essential factors, such as promoting sustainable energy, will be a significant component of the energy transition.

Climate change efforts often prioritize meeting energy sustainability goals and decarbonizing various economic sectors. While this is important, meeting sustainability goals will be impossible without a balanced, comprehensive approach to energy transition which also incorporates robust energy security plans.

A vicious cycle of extreme weather events

Recent events have demonstrated that a resilient energy system and a reliable energy supply are more important than ever—but also face more frequent systemic shocks than in the past. Extreme weather patterns such as wildfires, ice storms, heat waves, floods, and severe storms will only increase in frequency and severity with climate change, causing damage to infrastructure and straining the energy system to its breaking point.

In Canada, the effects of extreme weather may be exacerbated in remote communities where the energy system is particularly vulnerable and transportation costs are high. Shoring up these systems against natural disasters and building appropriate infrastructure will be an essential consideration for energy security as we attempt to chart a course toward decarbonization.

The impacts of global conflict

Energy security is also intrinsically connected to energy affordability and availability, which can be impacted by geopolitical instability—as the war in Ukraine has proven.

Russia’s invasion has thrown global energy markets into chaos as governments worldwide scramble to find alternative sources of oil and gas to replace Russian exports. This has positioned two of the most critical dimensions of the energy transition—energy security and sustainability—into conflict with each other.

Without a reliable energy supply, nations may be forced to expand fossil fuel production temporarily, pushing back their plans for transitioning to green energy sources. A case in point is Germany’s revival of coal as energy security trumps climate goals. Rising energy costs can reduce standards of living and diminish energy equity. When energy affordability and availability is uncertain, the drive for sustainable energy production becomes much more difficult. Despite their increasingly ambitious climate goals, European nations which relied upon Russian exports are finding that energy security is a more immediate problem than climate change, trumping sustainability at least in the short term. Beyond a desire to sanction Russian aggression, governments also want to shield their citizens and businesses from rising oil prices.

A firm energy transition policy and regulatory system is therefore needed to help mitigate the risks to energy security and limit the damage caused by instability in global markets. Though refocusing on energy security may slow decarbonization in the short term, diversifying further into sustainable sources of energy will ultimately represent a longer term solution for ensuring both energy security and sustainability. Prioritizing energy security will allow nations to continue their sustainability efforts without worrying as much about destabilization due to geopolitical crises.

The benefits and drawbacks of decentralization

Canada is, in many ways, a global leader in energy. We have a resource-rich economy powered by abundant quantities of oil, natural gas, hydro, nuclear power, and renewables.

However, Canada’s energy system is currently very decentralized, with no unified national energy strategy, integrated energy infrastructure plan, or narrative. Instead, the provinces individually manage their own resources and energy markets, and energy infrastructure is not fully integrated nationally.

This decentralized approach can mean systemic shocks such as cybersecurity breaches or extreme weather events are less likely to impact the country.

However, decentralization also makes achieving federal alignment in support of the energy transition more difficult, which slows down the decarbonization process and climate change action. Without a national infrastructure corridor and energy plan, progress toward our sustainability goals will be slowed.

By optimizing Canada’s energy plans and infrastructure on a national level, we can bring greater energy security to the isolated communities that need it most, accelerate the uptake of the energy transition, and accelerate decarbonization.


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