Lightning round with the Pembina Institute’s new executive directorChris Severson-Baker shares his vision for Pembina’s contribution to a clean energy future

Blog - Aug. 10, 2022 - By Victoria Foote
Chris Severson-Baker

Chris Severson-Baker Photo: The Pembina Institute

Chris Severson-Baker’s even-handed approach to pushing through on climate solutions neatly aligns with the organization he now leads. If the Pembina Institute has earned widespread respect from parties that often have little in common, it is in no small way thanks to Chris’s contribution over the years to a workplace that places high value on rigour, dialogue, and integrity.

As the new ED, Chris holds a clear understanding of the Institute’s vision and mandate, having worked closely with our outgoing executive director, Linda Coady, and others, on the organization’s strategic plan, priority issues, and an organizational re-structure that has sharpened our focus on ensuring the implementation of policies required to achieve net zero in Canada.

There is, however, a time and a place for everything. Chris is also an enthusiastic supporter of theme dance parties, outdoor meetings, and a well-stocked fridge to keep us motivated and energized to tackle the next big thing.

As he starts his new role at the Pembina Institute, we asked Chris four questions:

1. When did you first become interested in issues around climate change and taking action in response to global warming?

Mid-way through my undergraduate degree I discovered that what really excited me was the application of science and technology to address real world problems. I ended up transferring into the University of Alberta’s new and first-ever multi-disciplinary environmental sciences degree program.

By that point, it was clear that climate change was by far the greatest threat to the planet. At the beginning of my career, I worked on reducing the local and regional environmental impacts of energy development while always seeking to raise awareness of the need for government and industry to begin to take meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

2. The Pembina Institute is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary and you have been with the organization for a long time. What is it about Pembina that contributes to its longevity and relevancy in 2022 and beyond?

The Pembina Institute has a well-earned reputation for our critical analysis of the most pressing climate issues, our pragmatic approach to problem solving and our commitment to persuasive, workable solutions.

Pembina is also known for being persistent. For decades, the Pembina Institute raised awareness about the need for action on climate in Canada and this finally paid off with the announcement of the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan which helped to smooth the way for the PanCanadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change — both economy-wide plans that included measures we had long advocated be adopted.

The Pembina Institute is also the only major environmental nonprofit organization with roots in Alberta. As such we understand the important role that the energy sector plays in Alberta society and how Albertans can see themselves making a meaningful contribution to global action on climate change.  Leaders in government, industry and civil society trust that the Pembina Institute will take a genuine, clear and fair approach when we engage with stakeholders who hold similar or divergent positions in the interests of increasing understanding and seeking common ground. 

We operate the same way internally. We support and promote staff who are honest and have integrity. It’s really a core value here: be genuine, clear and fair.

3. Canada has made a commitment to lower the country’s emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. What are the biggest obstacles to achieving that goal and what is the Pembina Institute’s role in overcoming those obstacles?

We have delayed taking action on climate change in Canada too many times in the past and now we find ourselves trying to make up that ground. This means a lot of change in a very short period and change is hard even though it’s technically and economically possible and will result in better, safer, more resilient homes, cars, energy systems.

The Pembina Institute’s role is to continue to make the case for swift action on climate. To highlight the incredibly high cost of inaction. To debunk false claims that acting on Canada’s climate commitments is not possible. To urge Canadians and all stakeholders to focus on solutions that will lead to a stronger and more equitable economy.

4.    Coming into this new role at the Pembina Institute, what are your top priorities?

I’m prioritizing three critical areas. A top priority is creating compelling research and analysis and working directly with government on practical recommendations to support the implementation of Canada’s climate plan.

A second priority is proactively initiating constructive dialogue with provincial governments, the corporate sector and civil society to refine the Pembina Institute’s policy implementation recommendations and build increased support for the achievement of Canada’s 2030 and 2050 net-zero targets.

And thirdly, we must be vigilant and speak up loudly in recognition of in-the-moment progress while continually making the case for strong action on climate change.

Victoria Foote

Victoria Foote is director of communications for the Pembina Institute.


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