Alberta Indigenous delegate at COP27 brings message about province’s solar potential

For Mihskakwan James Harper, being at COP27 is personal.

He grew up on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, where his family owns a trap line and had a front row seat to the impacts of climate change.

“I’ve seen those causes of climate change through the extraction of oil and natural gas on our territories and indeed climate change itself,” Harper told Global News. “Those projects have contributed towards change in our territory and our landscape, and our ability to hunt and fish has been changed. The health of the water has changed.

“It’s becoming a little more difficult to be centred and close to the land, which is our teacher.”

Read more: Why Indigenous-led projects could be key to combating Canada’s energy dilemma

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The 27-year-old is a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in renewable energy.

He works in the energy storage business as the business development manager at NRStor Inc.

For the past week Harper has been in Egypt as a delegate at COP27 with Indigenous Clean Energy.

“For me personally, I’m just really grateful to be here and have the opportunity to share our stories from where I am from,” said Harper who now lives in Winnipeg.

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He said carbon capture has a role to play, but not as a long term solution.

“Carbon capture and storage has a role for now, but I definitely see us moving towards a totally net-zero emissions grid in the future,” he said.

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“We have the means, the technology, the financing and we have all the smart people in front of us ready to go. It’s just a matter of committing to it and acting on it.”

Harper said he noticed a substantial delegation of oil and gas companies attending COP27.

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“There is a very established and strong presence of influence and of power that still exists within the oil and gas industry. But I think also as a young person it is my responsibility and our generation’s responsibility to keep pushing forward and holding our leaders accountable,” Harper said.

“I think that is the responsibility of young people to always be challenging the status quo, and asking why and how can we do better.

“This is actually a teaching that I was raised with as a Cree: to always include our young people, because all of our actions will have repercussions and consequences for the future generations.”

Grace Young from Halifax is a member of Student Energy.  The youth led group shared ideas young people have about clean energy.

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“It’s also been really exciting to see for the very first time at COP there is a children and youth pavilion. It has been quite energizing to be a part of that,” said Young who is the mentorship and events manager with Student Energy.

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Young said Student Energy launched their first Youth Energy Outlook at COP26. She said it is the world’s first research project that showcases the perspective of over 40,000 youth from 129 countries. They were surveyed to understand their vision for their energy future and for the climate future.

“We really need to see governments and organizations working to create spaces for young people to meaningfully engage, which means not just being able to voice their opinion, but to ensure that it is valued just as critically as the opinions of those who have been in the industry or in high level positions for quite a while,” Young said.

Read more: Canada will not agree to phaseout of fossil fuels in COP27 agreement: minister

Harper said he was encouraged by the number of youth and Indigenous voices at COP27 calling for a faster transition to clean energy, but he’s disappointed that there hasn’t been more movement toward solar energy in Alberta.

“Alberta‘s grid is still pretty carbon intensive. It makes me a little bit sad to know that there’s not a lot of solar.

“I know that’s changing albeit slowly, but there’s massive potential in Alberta for clean energy and we just have to make sure that we commit to it,” Harper said

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Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, Sonya Savage lead a five member delegation to COP27.

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‘We can’t do it without carbon capture’: Alberta pushing for emission-reduction technology at COP27

Savage said Alberta has the fastest-growing renewable energy sector in Canada.

“Our province is moving quicker than anywhere else in Canada when it comes to wind and solar energy,” Savage said in a statement to Global News on Friday.

“There are at least 3,770 megawatts of wind and solar projects currently under construction right now, with an estimated value of $4.7 billion.”

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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