Originally published on The ECOreport.
Last December, Canada thrilled the world’s environmental community by announcing its return to the fight against climate change. After its dazzling performance at Paris, the newly elected Trudeau government promptly returned to energy policies of the preceding administration. More than 130 scientists condemned the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s report on the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG terminal as “a symbol of what is wrong with environmental decision-making in Canada.”
The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in British Columbia’s most populated area, will undoubtedly be approved on December 19. This would result in a threefold increase in the number of oil tankers sailing through Vancouver, which aspires to be the world’s greenest city. Then there is the ongoing melodrama connected to the proposed Energy East pipeline in eastern Canada. Disenchantment is spreading through the environmental community. Despite this, a new report from Environment and Climate Change Canada shows the Canadian government “gets it.”
The Canadian Government “Gets It”
The question is whether it will do anything about it.
One of the key statements, for those of us mystified by the Trudeau administration’s recent actions, is “Canada, and North America’s, electricity future will be shaped by interprovincial and intercontinental cooperation.”
This means working with provinces like Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, which have strong fossil fuel industries and aspirations.
In fact, the Canadian economy has become dependent on the gas and oil sector. “It is the world’s fourth largest exporter of crude oil and fifth largest exporter of natural gas.” The Canadian dollar has become a petrocurrency whose value fluctuates according to the price of oil.
Can Canada tackle climate change without damaging its economy?
CANADA’S MID-CENTURY LONG-TERM LOW-GREENHOUSE GAS DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY examines ways to reduce the nation’s emissions to 80% of their 2005 levels by 2050.
“This is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 2°C to 1.5°C temperature goal.”
Reducing Emissions From The Oil Sands
As might be expected, part of this strategy consists of reducing emissions from the gas and oil sectors. This was the source of 44% of Canada’s methane emissions and a significant portion of our carbon emissions in 2014.
“In oil sands operations, the adoption of innovative low-carbon extraction processes offers potential GHG emission reductions. Advanced technologies, such as solvent and electrothermal-based extraction methods for in situ, or direct contact steam generation, are at a stage of development whereby they offer a substantial opportunity to reduce emissions. These innovations could offer up to 50% GHG emissions reductions per barrel produced …”
Some Other Bigger Culprits
However, cities are an even bigger culprit, responsible for 70% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. They also provide an opportunity. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 38% of the global emissions reductions needed to reach a 2°C pathway could be met through energy efficiency improvements and demand side management in our cities.
Further inroads could be made through improvements to the transportation system, which currently produces more than a quarter of the nation’s emissions. An M.I.T. study found that electric vehicles can already satisfy most of the public’s needs. (Thus it seems likely that, as this technology advances, combustion driven vehicles will largely be relegated to museums in the not too distant future.) In addition, “Canada will continue to encourage cities to improve public transit and bike lanes, and design urban spaces that reduce the need for vehicle transportation.”
Those of us watching the rapid eradication of Canada’s remaining old growth forests can take some comfort in the fact the Canadian government knows it plays an “important role in sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
“This sequestration can be augmented through policies and measures that better manage our forests and forest products. Without consideration of the global land sector, the 1.5 to 2°C temperature goal will be very hard to achieve.
A Path To 1.5 Degrees?
This government report may sound like gibberish to many residents of British Columbia’s Lower Fraser Valley, who are watching their communities’ interests being overridden so that Kinder Morgan can build a pipeline that gives Albertan bitumen increased access to the ocean. (What happened to the idea of needing social license in affected communities ?)
Yet there is no denying that the government knows there is a problem and is taking steps to rectify it.
Does its plan make it possible to achieve the emissions reductions we need to hold the rise of global temperatures in check?
“Modelling of this nature illustrates the scale of ambition required to decarbonize Canada’s economy. The development of a long-term pathway to reduce emissions beyond Canada’s 2030 target is an essential step for the country, and will be an important input to federal, provincial and territorial planning processes,” writes Erin Flanagan, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute.
“This strategy is crystal clear that we need a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy across Canada’s economy,” says Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada.
“With an electricity grid powered by clean, renewable electricity Canada can take steps to electrify our economy — from transportation, to industry to buildings — delivering faster and deeper cuts to greenhouse gas pollution,” adds Jacob Irving, of the Canadian Hydropower Association.
The Environment and Climate Change Canada report cites a recent study, from the United Nations Environment Programme, which indicates there is a 50% chance we can hold the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C by 2050.
Illustration Credits: Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Co-Chair of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition at COP 22 from the Ministry of Natural Resources – Rwanda via flickr (CC BYSA, 2.0 License); Table A3: Trottier Energy Futures Project (Current Technology Scenario), CANADA’S MID-CENTURY LONG-TERM LOW-GREENHOUSE GAS DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY, Environment and Climate Change Canada, p 85; Table A5: Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, ibid, p 87.
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