Chief Executive of Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)

COSIA’s chief executive Wes Jickling looks back on the highlights of a standout year.

Two or three decades from now, when I’m near the end of my career and looking back, I think 2021 will stand out for me as a year of optimism and momentum. My reasoning is that despite it being a year of climbing out of COVID-19 stress and impacts, 2021 has seen a number of developments and a lot of hard work that have really emphasized COSIA’s role and unique value at the intersection of these Canadian priorities: climate change, energy, environment, clean technology, and innovation.

In the spring, we wrapped up our six-year-long NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, which was a flagship initiative of the Canadian oil sands to accelerate and generate global profile for carbon conversion technology. COSIA companies saw significant potential in this technology – utilizing C02 emissions to create new products and value – and used the XPRIZE to push some first-generation carbon conversion innovations out onto the global stage. 

Watching the evolution of the technologies and the XPRIZE contestants has been exciting. For us at COSIA, the announcement of the grand prize winners was a crowning moment that reinforced the importance of the role and responsibility the Canadian oil sands have taken on to nurture the next generations of greenhouse gas (GHG) reducing technologies. The world requires a lot more major collaborative efforts like this to develop and deploy the technologies that can significantly and rapidly reduce GHG emissions. 

Oil Sands Pathways

During the summer, a number of COSIA member companies launched the ‘Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance’. The Pathways Alliance, with its vision of net zero GHG emissions from oil sands operations by 2050, makes our industry the world leader in climate action. Realizing this vision will not be easy, and it will require significant collaboration. It is in this space – deep collaboration among competitor companies to develop environmental and GHG-reducing technologies – is where COSIA excels, and we will play a significant role in supporting the Pathways Alliance to develop the necessary technologies over the long-term. 

Walking the talk

Now, you might ask ‘it seems like a lot of organizations – companies in all industries, all levels of governments, and global climate conferences – are all saying net zero by 2050; so how is the oil sands any different?’ My view is that the hardest thing about saying net zero by 2050 is ‘walking the talk’. Getting organized, making a plan, and getting to work now in the early 2020s with 2050 in mind is hard to do. But for Canada’s oil sands and COSIA, walking the talk is exactly what we’re doing: companies working together to develop and execute a shared long-term plan to develop the GHG-reducing technologies we’ll need in the 2020s, 2030s, 2040s, and beyond. 

I’m excited by the role COSIA has in supporting the Pathways Alliance, by the momentum that’s building at COSIA, and by the prospect of seeing the development and acceleration of so many GHG-reducing technologies.

Unique niche model

In closing, a comment about the unique, niche model that is COSIA and the experiences I’ve had here so far. COSIA is a place built on the principle that true, deep collaboration amongst competitors is a very powerful way of improving environmental performance and reducing GHG emissions. The tremendous scale of the challenge to massively reduce GHG emissions – whether as a household, company, industry, country or international community – will require working together, collaborating in an unprecedented manner. 

No single company or government or industry is going to ‘win the gold star’ and get to net zero all on their own. It’s really hard work, which is exactly why we must do this together, and in Canada’s oil sands, it’s how we’ve been doing things for some time.