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Don’t Look to CCS, Hydrogen for Quick Carbon Cuts, Le Quéré Warns Canada

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It would be a big mistake for Canada to count on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) or hydrogen to meet its 2030 climate targets when those technologies will make “zero contribution” to emission reductions over the next decade, renowned Canadian climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré told a webinar audience Monday morning.

Both options “are technically feasible, there’s been quite a lot of research into both of them, but they’re nowhere near implementation, and we know how long it takes to implement such technology,” she said.

Le Quéré, a prolific researcher who sits on the national climate committees of both the United Kingdom and France, was responding to a question from Sen. Rosa Galvez of Quebec, who commented that Canada has clearly-stated carbon reduction goals but “poor pathways” to meet them. Those pathways call for the country to keep on “extracting and exporting fossil fuels and putting public funds into technologies such as CCUS and blue-grey hydrogen”, Galvez said.

Le Quéré said Galvez had raised a difficult question that “is really fundamental to setting a target” for national emission reductions. It will be 10 to 15 years before CCUS or hydrogen are ready to make a significant contribution on the national energy scene, she added.

“You need your hydrogen for those hard-to-decarbonize industries in 10 years’ time,” she said. But the shorter-term approaches to reduce emissions include decarbonizing and electrifying transportation, shifting some industry from fossil fuels to electricity, and planting trees.

“You can optimize everything, you can save, you can reduce your [energy] use, but you can’t count on hydrogen and CCUS,” she said. “You can push it as much as you want, but there’s no amount of funding that will bring these things forward a decade or two.”

Le Quéré acknowledged that the path to decarbonization isn’t easy or simple. “One has to recognize that it is really difficult, and the faster we have to move, the more difficult it’s going to be.”

But even so, “I’m afraid Canada is one of those countries that have failed to tackle climate change in the last decade, repeatedly missing its targets for greenhouse gases, irrespective of the government in power. There is no connection with the government itself, but rather an issue with the approach to tackling climate change.”

While two dozen or so countries—including much of Europe, the United States, and Mexico—significantly reduced their emissions in the decade prior to the pandemic, she noted, Canada is the only G7 country where emissions have increased since 2010, and since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. At the other end of the scale sits the United Kingdom, with a 28% emissions reduction over the last 10 years, driven by a Climate Change Act that requires governments to set five-year carbon budgets 12 years in advance, provides for annual progress reports, and now enshrines a net-zero emissions target for 2050.

The Act requires the Committee on Climate Change, of which Le Quéré is a member, to map out five-year targets that are evidence-based and span all the sectors of the economy, while factoring in the impacts of climate action on fiscal and economic policy, security of energy supply, fuel poverty, competitiveness, and air quality and health. The committee is supported by a 25-member secretariat, and because it was set up with cross-partisan support, it has continued non-stop since it was formed more than a decade ago, regardless of the government in power.

While describing Canada’s new climate accountability act, Bill C-12, as “an incredible step in the right direction,” Le Quéré suggested two “not very difficult changes” to increase its impact: adding a sense of urgency, by requiring a mid-decade target for 2025 and annual reporting to Parliament, and housing the country’s new Net-Zero Advisory Body with the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, rather than the federal environment minister, to ensure its independence.

“For this work, the government has to accept that they’re going to be advised in a critical way,” she said. “It has to be able to make incisive recommendations that will make them move.”