Decarbonization requires focus on sector-specific policies and investments: new report

Pathways to net zero: A decision support tool  was released on January 25, directed at policy makers and investors. The report provides a broad-stroke analysis of all sectors of the Canadian economy, summarized in Assessment Tables which identify processes within each sector, classified as “credible”  “capable” or  “compelling” as pathways to net-zero. Priority areas are identified and highlighted in the final recommendation that “Canada needs a paradigm shift from trying to do a little bit of everything to reduce emissions to accelerating real change by strategically focusing on building out key regional and sector-specific pathways to net zero. …This means prioritizing decarbonizing electricity, accelerating electric vehicle deployment and performing mass building retrofits, since these sectors are in the more mature ‘diffusion’ phase of their decarbonization transition.”  

The report also acknowledges the cross-cutting issues of carbon taxes, energy efficiency, and technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Future reports are promised to provide deeper assessments of the additional sectors of hydrogen and biofuel energy; plastics; iron and steel; aluminum; mass transit.  

Pathways to net zero: A decision support tool  is written by lead author Professor James Meadowcroft of Carleton University, and published by the Transition Accelerator in Calgary. The Transition Accelerator launched in summer of 2019 with Building Pathways to a Sustainable Future, a report which summarizes the organization’s goals and its “ transition approach”: partly defined as an examination of “opportunities to transform the large-scale societal systems or sectors which give rise to our emissions. This requires understanding how these systems operate, the stage of transition achieved in specific systems (‘emergence’, ‘diffusion’ or ‘system reconfiguration’), and the non-climate-related problems and disruptive currents influencing their evolution.”  

Other reports to date are compiled here and have focused largely on hydrogen energy and transportation issues.

Canada’s Just Transition Task Force as a model for energy and climate policy discussion

The Positive Energy research program at the University of Ottawa released two new reports in September. First,  Addressing Polarization: What Works? A Case Study of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force, written by Brendan Frank with Sébastien Girard Lindsay. According to the authors (p.26): “The primary aim of this case study was to identify specific attributes and processes of the Just Transition Task Force potentially conducive to depolarization over energy and climate issues in Canada …. To do so, we assessed whether the Task Force’s consultation process aligned with principles of procedural justice—consistency, neutrality, accuracy of information, correctability, representativeness and ethical commitment.” Unlike many other studies, this analysis took labour union views into consideration, insofar as it included a review of ENGO and labour organizations’ responses to Task Force activities.

The authors  conclude:

“Several elements of the Task Force’s approach are worth building on and studying further to reduce the risk of polarized opinion over energy and climate issues in Canada. Specifically, this research suggests that anyone designing or leading similar task force processes should pursue opportunities to go beyond the technocratic dimensions of the policy problem, engage with stakeholders in both formal and informal settings, ensure that the composition of the task force is geographically and vocationally reflective of the groups it is consulting, and, crucially, avoid any perceptions of partisanship or politicization. Lastly, given the complexity of Canada’s climate and energy files, it is important to consider the timing of the consultations and situate any policy problem a task force is commissioned to address within the broader policy, political and economic context.”

 

A two-page Brief summarizes the findings and implications for decisionmakers. The authors also wrote “Canada’s Just Transition Task Force can offer lessons for a green recovery” (The National Observer, Sept.18), which emphasizes “Most important were the neutral, non-partisan approach and the demonstration of ethical commitment of Task Force members, aided by a dynamic, iterative approach to consultations that took regional realities into consideration.”

Public Opinion on Oil and Gas and the Retraining of oil and gas workers

A survey was conducted as part of the Positive Energy research in Fall 2019, measuring public opinion on the present and future of the oil and gas industry in Canada, the role of federal and provincial governments, and issues related to transition. The authors summarized the findings in “What Canadians think about the future of oil and gas” in Policy Options (September 17), and in a 4-page Brief titled Polarization over Energy and Climate in Canada: Oil and Gas – Understanding Public Opinion.    Some highlights: there is overwhelming agreement amongst Canadians that oil and gas is important to the current economy, regardless of party affiliation, ideology, region, gender or age. Agreement regarding the future importance of the industry diminishes according to the age of the respondent. When asked if phasing out oil and gas is necessary and whether a phase-out is unfair to people in producing provinces, opinion is fragmented overall and polarized along partisan and ideological lines (but not along regional, age or gender lines).  Overall, there is strong agreement (70%) with the statement: “Canada needs to invest tax dollars into retraining workers as the country addresses climate change.  Positive Energy has conducted surveys of public opinion since 2015, compiled here . “On Energy and climate we’re actually not so polarized” appeared in Policy Options in January 2020, reporting on attitudes to carbon tax and pipeline construction, among other topics.

The Positive Energy project at the University of Ottawa is now in its second phase,  and has published a number of studies previously, including these, which  flew under the radar when released in the early days of the pandemic.  Addressing Polarization: What Works? The Alberta Climate Leadership Plan (March 2020) finds that while the Climate Leadership Plan was polarizing within Alberta, “it opened a policy window across the country. Many of Canada’s subsequent energy and climate policies would not have been possible without it.” The authors conclude that the Climate Leadership Plan was a success in terms of agenda setting and policy development, but a failure of implementation and communication.

What is Transition:  The Two Realities of Energy and Environmental Leaders in Canada  (March 2020), summarized in “Can Language drive polarization in the fight against climate change?” in The Hill Times (April 2020) .  Of this study, it is worth pointing out that the 40 energy and environmental leaders interviewed about their use and interpretation of the term “transition” did not include any labour leaders. (“interviewees were drawn from the energy and environmental communities, including from industry, policy, regulatory, non-government, research and Indigenous organizations”) .

The Positive Energy website provides access to their publications since 2015.

Canada’s Speech from the Throne sketches out its plans for Covid recovery in pale green

The Liberal government opened the new session of Parliament on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne titled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada.  Acknowledging the perilous moment of history in which it was delivered, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada states: “Today the Government of Canada delivered the most progressive speech from the throne heard in a generation. The promises made acknowledged the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the scale of action needed to confront them. Of course, we’ve heard similar promises before from this government. It is the policy and investment decisions made in the coming months that will determine whether the spirit articulated in this historic speech is turned into meaningful action.”

Stating that “this is not the time for austerity”, the Speech emphasizes measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19.  General summaries by the CBC here and the Toronto Star are here;  Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarizes and critiques the speech with a focus on inequality, the workplace, and health care.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees response appears in  “Promises are good Proof is better”. The Canadian Labour Congress reaction  is supportive of the Speech and highlights provisions of greatest impact to workers, including the government’s promise to create one million jobs through  “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”  Other key promises: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through to summer 2021; modernization of the Employment Insurance system will address the growth of the self-employed and gig workers; and yet again, “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system “.

From the Speech from the Throne:  The section titled, Taking action on extreme risks from climate change” :

“….Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country….. The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal. The Government will also legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its plan, the Government will:

Create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, cutting energy costs for Canadian families and businesses;

Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters, like floods and wildfires, to make communities safer and more resilient;

Help deliver more transit and active transit options;

And make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

The Government will launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology. The Government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.

Additionally, the Government will:

Transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal;

And support investments in renewable energy and next-generation clean energy and technology solutions.

Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Government will:

Support manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs;

And recognize farmers, foresters, and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.

The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute.

This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees.

The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

When the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was closed by a previous government, Canada lost an important tool to manage its waters. The Government will create a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. The Government will also identify opportunities to build more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.

At the same time, the Government will look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities, while advancing reconciliation and conservation objectives. Investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Reaction to climate change provisions:

From The Tyee ,“What’s in This Throne Speech Stew? Straight from the pandemic cookbook, it’s light on green garnishes. No election on the menu.”  Reporters at The National Observer agree in “Liberal throne speech targets COVID-19 over climate” (Sept. 23), stating: “Though the Trudeau Liberals promised an “ambitious green agenda” ahead of the throne speech, the vision for the coming months unveiled Wednesday focused more on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.”  Their compilation of reaction from green groups echoes the cautious optimism in a Greenpeace Canada statement  and from West Coast Environmental Law  – which commends “promising signals” but asks “how the climate goals set out in the Throne Speech tally with the federal government’s continued support for climate-destructive projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project.”

In the lead up to the Throne Speech, many green groups had lobbied with their specific proposals : a few examples include an Open Letter to Ministers coordinated by the Climate Action Network; the One Earth One Voice campaign;  and the Draft Throne Speech offered by Greenpeace Canada.

The National Observer highlighted the proposals of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an  Opinion Piece by Mike Moffatt and John McNally ,  “ Want a green, inclusive recovery? You can’t rush that” (Sept. 24).  They condense the arguments from an earlier blog post, ” Making a green recovery inclusive for all Canadians which lays out specific green recovery proposals but warns that a “full recovery” cannot begin until Covid-19 has been brought under control: “The risks of infection from bringing people together, potentially leading to future lockdowns, are too great.”

Climate Action Policy Prescriptions for Canada

Two sets of recommendations were recently released: on March 18, by a new academic collaboration, Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD); and on March 19, in the Alternative Budget published annually by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis. The Sustainable Canada Dialogues document, Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars, and a french-language version,  Agir sur les changements climatiques, are characterized  as “a scholarly consensus on science-based, viable solutions for greenhouse gas reduction”.

Sixty academics from across Canada combined to urge policymakers to adopt a long-term target of at least an 80% reduction in emissions by mid-century. “In the short-term, we believe that Canada, in keeping with its historical position of aligning with US targets, could adopt a 2025 target of a 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions relative to our 2005 levels”. Policy recommendations include, most immediately: Either a national carbon tax or a national economy-wide cap and trade program; elimination of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; and integration of sustainability and climate change into landscape planning at the regional and city levels so that maintenance and new infrastructure investments contribute to decarbonizing.

The paper also advocates establishment of East-West smart grid connections to allow hydro-producing provinces to  sell electricity to their neighbours; energy efficiency programs, and a “transportation revolution”. The Acting on Climate Change document will be followed by a special issue of Alternatives Journal magazine, to be released on March 27, to include more detailed articles by 20 of the SCD participant authors. Sustainable Canada Dialogues, launched in September 2014, is partnered with three institutions in Panama, and “proposes to advance sustainability education, research and social dialogues in Panama and in Canada”.

The second statement of recommended climate policies appears in the CCPA Alternative Budget for 2015, Delivering the Good. The Alternative Budget, like the government budget statement that it shadows, covers the full range of economic and social issues facing Canada. It also includes a section on the Environment and Climate Change, which states: “The best current budget opportunities include implementing a price on greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon tax; not subsidizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) or hydraulic fracturing (fracking); protecting Canada’s public lands and species at risk; and supporting power storage through accelerated expense write-offs, electric vehicles through fast-charging recharging stations in high-demand areas, and public transit and energy efficiency home retrofits”. A National Harmonized Carbon Tax should be implemented immediately, at $30 a tonne (the current level in British Columbia), increasing to $200 a tonne by 2020. More than half of the HCT revenues should be used to provide a Green Tax benefit for individuals and the remainder transferred to the provinces to fund “climate change abatement measures”. It is estimated that the carbon tax would generate annual revenue of $16 billion, with the Green Tax Refund incurring a net annual cost of $8.8 billion (p. 28).   Is the time finally right for serious consideration of Canada’s climate change policies? As Environmental Defense reported on March 9, NDP, Liberals and Greens agree on an Approach to Assess Carbon Pollution Reduction. Calling it “a step in the right direction”, the blog describes the February 19 debate in the House of Commons around Bill C-619, the Climate Change Accountability Act, a private members bill introduced by NDP Matt Kellway in June 2014. NDP, Liberals and Greens are now on record as supporting the Bill’s accountability measures and the target of  domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.