The country has to take action to cut emissions now or it won’t meet its next deadline of 2030
Technology isn’t enough. To meet its net-zero goals, Canada needs to collaborate with other countries and big businesses
In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to make Canada the “cleanest, greenest and most innovative country in the world”. The aim, he said, was to “reduce carbon pollution in all our systems, not just our energy sector”.
The country is halfway to its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2030. That means that the Canada’s current overcarbon economy must be replaced by a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
Consulting more with other countries and private corporations to make that transition is crucial to achieving the goal, and it was a central premise of Canada’s response to the Paris agreement, released last year.
Canadians have come a long way on their carbon goals since emissions plunged in the wake of the oil price crash of 2014, but there’s still a long way to go. While the total volume of fossil fuel being burned is on a steady downward trend, the amount of global emissions is climbing.
This growing national climate challenge has captured the attention of many other nations, notably the United States. Public opinion in the US is turning against a sector that was once central to national economic growth. More than one-third of Canadians surveyed in a recent Ipsos poll said they thought Americans were “wrong” to argue against making the US “greener”. The lower number from Americans suggests there is room for a Canadian response.
Canadians have come a long way on their carbon goals since emissions plunged in the wake of the oil price crash of 2014. Photograph: Chris Wattie/Reuters
However, the country’s developed, multi-tier economy has presented a unique challenge for Trudeau. Its four tax rates are all higher than in most of its northern neighbours. It has significant tax credits to encourage conservation, but is still a tax-unfriendly jurisdiction for many low- and middle-income households.
Major corporations are doing more than the Canadian government, but that doesn’t mean they’re bringing out the R&D projects or business plans needed to meet net-zero goals. The oil giant Suncor, for example, recently filed a definitive plan for bringing about net-zero energy emissions by 2030. However, if the company wants to lower its emissions to zero as quickly as possible, it needs to innovate across every company division.
It’s common for emissions to vary significantly between projects at different companies. So Suncor needs to work with partners and stakeholders from across the economy to make sure its overall emissions reductions match the market potential. This could include sharing ideas from diversified coal and oil producers, carbon trading systems and renewable power installations.
Canada needs partners on the cutting edge of renewable energy and clean technology, not just government tinkering with old targets.
The country is in a unique position to tackle climate change. Trudeau has picked one of the oldest and largest economies in the world as the leader in international climate negotiations. The ambition has been scaled up over the past two years, with the creation of a new cabinet committee and the appointment of representatives from across the country, sectors and regions.
The energy sector, in particular, has its own diverse mix of sources, but has to cut its emissions in many different ways to make net-zero possible. For example, some of these reductions can come from technology, but whether those technologies will be adopted by the market depends on how much infrastructure is added to enable them.
Technology has been cutting the emissions of cars and trucks in recent years. However, Canada is currently investing heavily in new infrastructure, such as new rail and pipeline infrastructure. In 2017, the country committed $8.8bn to build an “Energy System” to get power where it needs to go.
The kind of infrastructure Trudeau will need to support the rapid integration of renewables into national electricity grids. The government can start by putting a price on carbon emissions.
This research project is supported by the Canada New Energy Fund, a federal investment in energy technologies, and the Centre for New Energy and Sustainable Systems. Please find out more information about the project at https://www.jesianair.ca/upload/video/EE2_Cambridge_SSM_1.pdf.