Canada cannot realistically expect to hit its current target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 45% by 2030, and should instead set a more modest goal while leaning heavily on the electricity and fossil fuel sectors for deep carbon cuts during this decade, a new think tank report concludes this week.
In addition to pushing for reductions of 60% in fossil fuels and 75% in electricity by 2030, with the fossil reductions driven by a “hard cap” on emissions and supported by transition measures for communities and workers, the Montreal-based Institut de l’énergie Trottier (Trottier Energy Institute) advises Ottawa to get the building blocks and measurable indicators in place now to hit a net-zero target by 2050.
“It is high time to stop debating targets and to start moving on an efficient and significant reduction path compatible with the net-zero by 2050 objective,” write IET research associate Simon Langlois-Bertrand and academic director Normand Mousseau.
“Given the short time to 2026 and 2030, technological, technical, and human constraints, as well as the lack of drive to transform prevalent in most governments and institutions across the country, we estimate that Canada can at best reduce its overall emissions by 25 to 35% over the next eight years.”
In light of the country’s “current degree of unpreparedness,” they add, it’s realistic to try to reduce emissions 25% from 2005 levels by decade’s end, as long as that plan is “implemented decisively and efficiently—and considering the high probability that not all sectors will deliver fully.”
Even then, Langlois-Bertrand and Mousseau write, “details matter”, and the most recent federal climate plan released in December 2020 “is a perfect example of disconnect between the general objectives and the specific programs and expenses put forward to support it, as many of those do not include any measurable indicators of progress in reducing emissions.”
To hit even a more modest 25% target by 2030, “Canadians must focus on sectors where deep emissions reductions are possible in the shorter term, while initiating changes in other sectors where short-term reductions are more challenging,” the authors state. That will mean combining a carbon pricing program with regulations and targeted programs across all sectors of the economy.
To make it work, one of the most important roles for the federal government is to “send a very clear signal that it is serious about achieving these goals, in order to convince the other actors in Canada to act accordingly. Two years of work on the ground have shown us that, at the moment, most actors across sectors are in a wait-and-see position, doubtful that the transition will take place and, at best, ready to follow but reluctant to lead.”
The elements of the institute’s 2030 plan include:
• A 75% emissions reduction in electricity, with financing for infrastructure upgrades, incentives for electricity trade among provinces, and a clean electricity standard;
• A 60% reduction in fossil fuels, with an interim target of 30% by 2026, recognizing that fossils “will have to decarbonize and move the focus to the production of net-zero emission products rather than simply reducing the emission intensity of production” if they want a “long-term economic future”;
• A 45% reduction in buildings, with net-zero, high-efficiency building codes in place and no new buildings using fossil fuels by 2024;
• Emission cuts of 40% for process heat and 30% for industrial processes in non-fossil industries, with no use of fossil fuels to produce low- or medium-temperature heat after 2030;
• A 10% saving in transportation, with financing and incentives for rapid electric vehicle charging networks, limits on natural gas use for medium and heavy trucking, and a revised clean fuel standard that protects the agri-food sector;
• Commercially viable carbon capture outside the fossil sector contributing 10 to 25 megatonnes of emission reductions per year.
The institute calls on Ottawa to make emissions data available at six-month intervals, evaluate programs annually, and set up a central agency to consolidate expertise on the energy transition and deliver “much-needed technical support” to other levels of government.
Mousseau said he’s been receiving pushback for advocating a lower 2030 target, but maintains it’s more important for Canada to deliver on what it can realistically get done.
“I can be as ambitious as I want,” he told The Energy Mix. But “on the ground, nobody is ready to do what is needed to get to 2030 or 2050. Nobody is planning the investments. Nobody wants to increase production of clean energy. It’s not there. It’s not in the plans. So there are huge barriers to this transformation.”
The first challenge for the federal government is to set the momentum for serious emission reductions, at a time when “everybody is betting on us failing, and nobody wants to be the first to embark in a new direction,” he added.
Mousseau suggested a series of foundational steps the federal government could set in motion—from guaranteed 200-amp electrical current for anyone who wants to install an EV charger, to standards and regulations for industrial heat pumps, to an eight- to 10-year deadline to phase out most uses of natural gas in industry.
Those changes will all need time to deliver on, but while “it will happen too late for 2030, we need to get them in place,” he said. “So our plan is to use the next few years to set things in motion, and do a few things that can be accomplished reasonably quickly.”
In the fossil sector, Mousseau said the government can leave it to the companies themselves to decide whether carbon capture and storage can help them deliver rapid, deep emission cuts. Ottawa’s role should be to set a 60% target by 2030—and make it clear that fossils shouldn’t expect subsidies to help make it happen.
“They should pay for it themselves,” he said. “They’re sitting on C$60 billion in cash at the moment. so I won’t a shed a tear for them. If they want to go ahead, let’s go ahead,” with the government reserving its funding for measures like low-carbon fuels.
With intense attention focused on climate provisions in the federal budget expected at the end of the month, Mousseau said the money available is secondary to how it’s spent. He stressed the need to consolidate the relatively few officials in federal departments with deep understanding of the climate transition and get them working together in a single agency—not to duplicate effort, but to deliver on a government-wide target in a more integrated way.
“To me, it’s not first and foremost a question of budget,” he told The Mix. “It’s a question of regulations. It’s a question of getting things done. And the budget has to align behind the plan. We’ve been spending billions of dollars with zero success, with zero transformative result. So what’s important to me is the plan, and how you align it.”