Nathan Lemphers

Scholars
2014
Mentor(s): 
Study program:
PhD Political Science
Current affiliation:
University of Toronto
Localisation:

Nathan is seeking to apply to Canada Norway’s experience of decreasing its domestic carbon emissions while continuing fossil fuel extraction.

My research project

Australia, Canada, and Norway are the largest fossil fuel producers among economically advanced nations. Yet only Norway has managed to avoid the poor climate governance often associated with countries with significant fossil fuel production – a phenomenon known as the carbon curse. What is it about the political systems of fossil fuel-rich, advanced economies that makes them more or less susceptible to the carbon curse? Nathan’s research will explore the causal pathways of the carbon curse theory in fossil fuel-rich advanced economies. If Canada is to pursue the twin goals of expanded fossil fuel extraction and decarbonization, it is critical to look at other countries that have decoupled fossil fuel extraction from domestic carbon emissions. 

 

Tell us about your research project and its central idea. 

Norway, Canada, and Australia are the largest fossil fuel producers among economically advanced nations. Yet only Norway has managed to avoid the poor climate governance often associated with countries with significant fossil fuel production, a phenomenon known as the carbon curse. What is it about the political systems of fossil fuel-rich advanced economies that makes them more or less susceptible to the carbon curse? My research will explore the causal pathways of the carbon curse theory in fossil fuel-rich advanced economies.  

What led you to choose this research project in particular?

Prior to my doctoral studies, I spent four years working as a policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, an environmental and energy policy think tank in Canada. My work was primarily on policy issues related to oilsands and pipeline development – one of the highest profile public policy areas in the country. In choosing this research project, I wanted to broaden my existing knowledge base outside of Canada to other comparable countries and see which experiences, if any, are relevant for Canada. This research is critically important because of the urgency associated with addressing climate change. The need could not be higher for similar countries to learn from each other regarding how to decouple economic growth from rising emissions. 

What is new or surprising about your research? 

The carbon curse theory is very recent — only put forward in 2013 by Joerg Friedrichs and Oliver Interwildi, two University of Oxford researchers. By testing and refining the carbon curse theory and linking it to existing theoretical traditions within political science, this research will improve the academic understanding of effective climate governance. Norway is in many ways an outlier: it has a robust fossil fuel industry and very ambitious climate policies. My research will help contextualize Norway’s experience alongside other similar countries and shed light on possibilities for Canada to better address climate change. 

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings?

While I will certainly produce academic articles from my research, which will benefit political scientists studying climate and energy policy, I also seek to reach beyond the traditional academic audience. My research findings will be highly relevant for policy-makers in Canada, Australia, and Norway who wish to responsibly develop their fossil fuel resources and embrace effective climate governance. Given the highly disruptive and intensifying impacts of climate change, academics and policy-makers need to intentionally engage one another on potential solutions. My research will be most helpful for those looking to understand the compatibility of fossil fuel development and economy-wide emissions reductions. My findings could also be of interest to analysts in the financial sector and the oil and gas industry interested in the relationship between fossil fuel development and climate policy. I also plan to publish op-eds and a book on climate and energy politics meant for a popular audience. 

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate? 

The heated public debate on climate and energy policy in Canada will only get hotter over the next few years. While it is difficult to predict which political parties will be in power in five years at the provincial and federal levels, it is clear that analysis based on state-of-the-art political science theories and methods, combined with insights gained from similar countries, is critical to move this policy debate forward. This analysis could not only inform upcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry, but also contribute to the groundwork for more ambitious, economy-wide climate change policies in the future. 

Nathan’s research explores the relationship between fossil fuel development and effective climate governance. In particular, he is interested in what Canada can learn from how other fossil fuel-rich advanced nations, such as Australia, and Norway are addressing climate change.

Prior to his doctoral studies, Nathan spent four years as a senior policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental and energy policy thinktank. In that capacity, he published policy reports and op-eds on the environmental impacts and economics of oilsands and pipeline development.  At Pembina, Nathan contributed to private- and public-sector consulting projects on such topics as offshore oil and gas drilling regulations, wetlands policy, sustainable design, and sustainability reporting. In 2013, he testified at the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline Joint Review Panel hearing, on market diversification in the energy sector at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources, and on the safety of hydrocarbon transport in Canada at the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Nathan’s commentary on climate and energy policy has appeared in such venues as the Montreal Gazette, The Globe and Mail, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He  has appeared regularly on CBC, Global, and CTV news and current affairs television programs.

Nathan has worked as a biologist in the Yukon, Alberta, and France, as an environmental educator, as a youth mentor, and as an intern with UNESCO. Currently, Nathan is a Junior Fellow at Massey  College, a research assistant at the Environmental Governance Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, and a member of the Atlantic Council’s Emerging Leaders in Environmental and Energy Policy Program. He also sits on the Community of Interest Panel of the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining program. Nathan holds a bachelor’s of science degree in environmental and conservation sciences from the University of Alberta and a master’s degree in city planning (certificate in environmental policy and planning) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he wrote his thesis on the interface between Alberta’s environmental policies and the corporate environmental performance of three oilsands mines.