from the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program examines the work of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). The NRTEE was created by the government of Canada in 1988 to promote sustainable development that advanced environmental and economic interests simultaneously using policy research and directly advising the government. This analysis assesses how the NRTEE in its 25-year history addressed conflict in the energy arena, built consensus around energy and environmental issues, and which aspects of its institutional design and process contributed to those outcomes.
The case study was authored by Positive Energy Faculty Research Affiliate and Professor Stephen Bird (Clarkson University), masters’ candidate Sarah Chase (University of Denver) and with contributions by PhD candidate Julien Tohme (Université d’Ottawa). The analysis suggests that much of the NRTEE model was an effective and useful approach for developing consensus on many (but not all) controversial policy arenas in the environmental and energy realm. The NRTEE achieved notable successes and influenced policy for sustainability planning in business and urban arenas, carbon accounting, climate change impacts, waste-water solutions, energy efficiency, forestry management, and international environmental partnerships and dialogue.
The NRTEE improved networks and partnerships across sectors and between industry, NGOs, and government, and broadly increased trust in that context. Interviewees from all time periods agreed that an effective round table process with an emphasis on consensus-building had been successfully realized. Further, it helped to contribute to improved solutions and policies across a wide context of issue areas in the environmental and energy arenas. These included the first comprehensive modelling of climate change impacts in Canada, new ways to calculate CO2 emissions adopted by the government, and extensive guidance on sustainability reporting that was adopted by many private sector companies.
The analysis also shows areas of concern. For instance, mechanisms to maintain both political independence and engagement were particularly challenging. In this, the influence of NRTEE discussions and reports on government and beyond varied enormously over its twenty five year period. As a result, we suggest mechanisms for institutional design that can help maintain independence, but also maintain relevance.
This case study is one of five that aim to identify ‘What Works?’ when it comes to building consensus amid polarization over energy and climate change. Each case examines an organization, program, or initiative established to either address polarization (the and the ) or foster consensus-building ( and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy [this study]).