In accordance with the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, the federal government must present, by the end of March, details of its plan to reduce emissions by 2030.
However, researchers say the 2030 target won’t be reached. Polytechnique Montréal’s Institut de l’énergie Trottier (IET) suggests how Canada could focus on reducing its global emissions by 25 to 35 per cent over the next eight years, despite the target for a 40-45 per cent reduction from 2005 levels.
Thus far, point out the researchers, Canada has missed all of its climate targets. IET has taken action to develop a plan that focuses on a set of proposals on a sector-by-sector basis. The IET is well positioned to provide effective and meaningful courses of action, given that it holds valuable knowledge: evidence from one of the country’s most in-depth modelling exercises.
In October 2021, the IET released the second edition of its Canadian Energy Outlook, which outlines decarbonization scenarios for Canada, and demonstrates that carbon neutrality is forcing us to fundamentally rethink greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Shortly thereafter in an analysis of the shorter-term measures taken, the IET identified a huge gap between publicly-announced measures and what would be needed to actually reach expected 2030 milestones.
A team of experts has developed a plan to guide Canada’s policies and investments. The proposals offered assume that current measures will remain in place: carbon pricing, funding energy efficiency improvements in residential buildings, phasing out coal in electricity generation by 2030, imposing mandatory targets on zero-emission vehicles sold, and decarbonizing electricity generation by 2035.
“The Canadian Energy Outlook enables us to better integrate the changes to be made in the next five to eight years, in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. By relying on the Outlook, as well as on analyses of trends and barriers to decarbonization in various sectors, we were able to develop sector-based proposals for large-scale structuring actions,” says Normand Mousseau, scientific director of the IET.
2030: failure expected
All indicators suggest that the goals of the 2030 carbon reduction challenge will not be met. The IET’s analysis suggests that Canada can at best achieve a 25-35 per cent reduction in overall emissions over the next eight years with the most effective measures ever taken, compared to the target of a 40 – 45 per cent reduction from 2005 levels. Therefore, IET’s report provides a coherent starting point for carbon neutrality by 2050, while making as many gains as possible by 2030. It also sets out Canada’s mid-course targets for 2026.
Simon Langlois-Bertrand, an IET researcher adds: “Now, we need to focus on sectors where significant emission reductions are possible in under a decade, while at the same time beginning transformations in certain sectors where change is more difficult and therefore slower.”
Up to date data necessary
According to the authors, in terms of governance, there are two key measures that need to be adopted as soon as possible. First, the government must provide up-to-date information about national and provincial GHG emission volumes to enable analysts to independently validate the relevance and effectiveness of measures. At present, the annual national GHG emission inventory is published with a two-year lag – a delay that prevents an accurate assessment of the transformations. The authors also note that government expertise in developing effective measures targeting GHG emissions is scattered. To counteract this, they propose expertise be brought together into a more centralized organization that could support the entire federal government in its efforts to achieve climate goals.
Critical strategies recommended by sector
Electricity – A significant expansion in the production of low-carbon electricity will be required to meet anticipated increases in demand, the latter being linked, in particular, to electric vehicle fleet expansion and the decarbonization of building heating. Infrastructure must transform quickly to keep pace. Starting today, investments and regulations to modernize facilities must take these changes into account.
Buildings – Building codes that are highly efficient and meet net-zero energy consumption standards across Canada need to be developed and adopted. At the same time, the IET believes that no new construction using fossil fuels should be permitted as of 2024. The authors also recommend a ban on highly emitting energy options for space heating, such as natural gas; this includes options for new buildings as well as those requiring an expansion of gas distribution systems for existing buildings as of January 1, 2024 – a move that has already been accomplished in several provinces in terms of fuel oil. A timetable needs to be established to phase out these energy sources in existing buildings over the longer term.
Industry – If an objective to reduce GHG emissions from industrial processes by 30% is to be achieved by 2030, Canada will have to implement low-carbon solutions in 10% of industries by 2026, among other efforts. In terms of heat production, one of the priorities is to design and implement programs for the assembly and manufacturing of industrial heat pumps. Similarly, an inventory of industrial processes for which carbon capture and storage solutions are required must be developed in order to plan the implementation of these solutions.
Transport – Canada faces a significant challenge in terms of making a quick transition in the transportation sector due to low vehicle turnover, lack of appropriate technology (for heavy transportation, in particular) and the challenge of supply as the sector decarbonizes. This applies to personal vehicles, and to a much greater extent, to all other subsectors. Short-term measures must take into account the limitations of the sector’s GHG reduction potential, while significantly improving the conditions that will permit its subsequent transformation. Of course, the rapid installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure is on the list of suggested efforts.
The IET also proposes tight control over the expansion of natural-gas distribution networks for heavy and medium commercial transportation to avoid having gas used to a similar extent for several more decades. Given the relatively rapid rate of replacement of these fleets, near-term emissions reductions resulting from the switch to natural gas may remain compatible with carbon neutrality trajectories in specific sub-sectors – but only if these changes do not result in the expansion of distribution infrastructure that will be subsequently abandoned.
Oil and gas – If oil and gas resources are to have a long-term economic future, existing operations will need to decarbonize and focus on producing net-zero-emission products rather than just reducing the carbon intensity of production activities. Emissions from this sector are of critical importance to Canada’s GHG profile. From an energy system perspective, a substantial reduction in emissions from this sector is the most straightforward and least expensive way to reduce overall emissions. These emissions also require the most attention in order to properly manage economic disruptions for populations affected by this transformation.
The IET proposes applying the firm cap to the sector’s emissions announced last fall by the federal government, through a cap-and-trade mechanism specific to the oil and gas sector. The latter would involve auctioning off permits to emit greenhouse gases and authorizing intra-sectoral trading of permits.
Biomass – Biomass is an interesting solution due to its potential to produce negative emissions (through the use of biomass associated with carbon capture and storage). Its contribution is essential to achieving carbon neutrality in the longer term, therefore improving knowledge on this resource is crucial to better manage it.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – With the goal of carbon neutrality over a 28-year horizon, deploying technological solutions that will have to be replaced in 15 or 20 years (such as installing CCS devices in sectors where they are not essential) simply does not make sense. Moreover, focusing on transition solutions is often a diversion that reduces the funds available to make investments needed to create and implement more permanent carbon-neutral solutions; more temporary transition solutions generally increase the cost of implementing more lasting solutions, in addition to adding further delays to the transformation of the economy.
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