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Current Policy Tools Won’t Meet Canada’s Paris Targets, Calgary Energy Modeller Warns

Canada will need a more aggressive strategy than its current reliance on carbon pricing, fuel standards, and clean energy incentives if it hopes to keep its promises under the Paris agreement, writes energy modeller David B. Layzell, director of the University of Calgary’s Canada Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) initiative, in a new blog post.

Those policy measures “can achieve only incremental changes in the systems responsible for producing (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Layzell writes. “They are not capable of driving the transformative changes in technologies, infrastructure, and behaviour needed to meet the nation’s GHG targets and international climate commitments, while still growing the economy.”

Layzell’s post points back to a CESAR report that looks at the broader societal shifts that could help drive down carbon pollution—whether or not they’re motivated by a focus on climate change.

“We live in an era of disruptive systems change driven by technology, business model, and social innovation. But the primary drivers for these disruptions are rarely focused on climate change mitigation. Rather, they are intended to lower costs, enhance convenience, provide comfort, or build community,” he writes.

“This means we need to look for reasons in addition to reducing GHG emissions to transform human systems. We don’t have to look far.”

For example, he says disruptive changes in personal mobility are on the near horizon, motivated by concerns about collision deaths and injuries, air pollution, highway congestion, and the realization that private cars are only used about 4% of the time—“for the other 96%, they are parked on the most expensive land in Canada.” But how innovations like autonomous vehicles, energy storage systems, car sharing, and mobility-as-a-service are implemented will determine “which problems are addressed, which new problems arise and which problems are made worse.”

For example, so-called driverless cars “could easily worsen the environmental footprint of personal mobility by enhancing demand, reducing vehicle occupancy loads, encouraging urban sprawl, stimulating fuel use, and increasing congestion. However, policies to encourage the convergence of autonomous, shared, and electric vehicles could lower the cost of personal mobility, improve vehicle efficiency, replace parking lots and garages with parks and walkable communities, shorten commuting distances, and reduce both congestion and GHG emissions.”

But Layzell warns of a “modelling and data gap” that “leaves Canada behind other countries such as the U.S. and UK, and ill-prepared to proactively plan for and respond to the kind of systemic changes that have already disrupted major industries,” and will sweep many of the technologies behind a post-carbon transition.

Without the right policy tools to direct that disruption, he writes, “Canada has little hope of meeting its Paris climate commitments, let alone doing this while enhancing economic prosperity, social cohesion, and an improved quality of life for future generations.”