Roadmap for U.S. Decarbonization emphasizes job creation, equity in Transition

A Committee of Experts in the United States collaborated to produce a sweeping policy blueprint for how the U.S. can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Accelerating Decarbonization of the United States Energy System was published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in February 2021, and discusses how to decarbonize the transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors.  The Overview emphasizes goals of job creation and equity, with a need to build social license.  This aspect of the report is drawn out in “We risk a yellow vest movement”: Why the US clean energy transition must be equitable”  a summary which appeared in Vox.

From the report overview

“The transition represents an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, increase the availability of high-quality jobs, build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate our current system, and allow those individuals, communities, and businesses that are marginalized today to share equitably in future benefits. Maintaining public support through a three decade transition to net zero simply cannot be achieved without the development and maintenance of a strong social contract. This is true for all policy proposals described here, including a carbon tax, clean energy standards, and the push to electrify and increase efficiencies in end uses such as vehicle and building energy use. “

The report recommendations are summarized in this  Policy Table, and in a 4-page Highlights document.  These include:   Setting an emissions budget for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases • Setting an economy-wide price on carbon (though a low price is set “because of concerns about equity, fairness, and competitiveness”) • Establish a 2-year federal National Transition Task Force “to evaluate the long-term implications of the transition for communities, workers, and families,  and identify strategies for ensuring a just transition”.• Establish a new Office of Equitable Energy Transitions within the White House to act on the recommendations of the task force, establish just transition targets and  track progress • A  new independent National Transition Corporation. • A new Green Bank, initially capitalized at $30 billion, to ensure the required capital is available for the net-zero transition and to mobilize greater private investment • A comprehensive education and training initiative “to develop the workforce required for the net-zero transition, to fuel future innovation, and to provide new high-quality jobs” • Triple federal investment in clean energy RD&D at the Department of Energy over the next ten years,  as well as the support for social science research on the socio-economic aspects of advancing the transition.

The full report, 210 pages, is available free for download from this link  (registration required).

Favourable reaction by Canadians to an updated Climate Plan -including a carbon tax rising to $170 per tonne by 2030

On December 11, the federal government released its highly-anticipated new climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, announcing 64 policy measures costing $15 billion. The Plan addresses energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure,  transportation emissions, the Clean Fuel Standard, an adaptation strategy – and a centrepiece policy to increase the carbon tax by $15 a tonne each year for the next eight years, as summarized by the CBC in  “Ottawa to hike federal carbon tax to $170 a tonne by 2030 “. Taken with the proposed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act currently before Parliament, which formalizes Canada’s target of net-zero emissions by the year 2050, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy lays out the most specific path forward for Canada since the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework in 2016.

A Backgrounder is here,  and specific initiatives are explained in Annex documents here.  One missing piece, as pointed out in Unifor’s reaction to the new Plan: the previously-promised Just Transition Act.   Also missing: the slightest notice by the international press, even the normally climate-vigilant Guardian in the U.K.  Reaction within Canada was strong, and ranged widely (compiled by the CBC here). In the mainstream media, the conservative-leaning Globe and Mail  approved in its Editorial:  “Justin Trudeau goes all in on the carbon tax. It’s the right thing – for the environment, and the economy”. Political writer Paul Wells uses similar language and  confesses to “startled admiration” in “On climate, at last, Justin Trudeau is all in” in Maclean’s magazine . The National Observer published  “Trudeau goes it alone with new climate plan, proposes carbon price hike”, drawing the contrast with the 2016 Framework, which was drafted in consultation with all the provinces.  The Energy Mix  is less approving in “With $170/Tonne Carbon Price, $15b In New Spending, Canada’s 2030 Carbon Target Still Falls Far Short”  (Dec. 14), which summarizes reaction from environmental groups.

Reaction from Labour and Environmentalists:

Like Unifor , the Canadian Labour Congress highlights the need for more transition measures in the new Plan, and states: “Labour will be looking to the federal government to make good on its commitment to supporting local job creation, skills training, apprenticeships and decent wages for workers, especially to those historically underrepresented in the skilled trades sector, including Indigenous workers, racialized workers and women…. Canada’s unions welcome the government’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing, including developing Canadian supply chains for low-emission building materials, clean tech, and aerospace and automotive investments, and leveraging the power of public procurement. Additionally, unions are noting the crucial commitments made today towards bringing Indigenous communities into the process.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Canada (IBEW) commends the Plan and states:  “The highly skilled members of the IBEW are trained and ready to take on these important jobs, and the government’s commitment to investing in green buildings and retrofits, electrified public and private transportation and grid modernization will require exactly the sort of knowledge and skills that IBEW members demonstrate on the job every day.”

From the Climate Action Network Canada, which includes both labour and environmental groups:  “… this plan does not change the fact that Canadian governments continue to double down on fossil fuels, subjecting workers and our economy to the ever-increasing volatility of oil and gas markets…. It’s good to see policies that can, if implemented quickly and with the greatest stringency possible, take Canada’s climate ambitions further than our current insufficient Paris pledge – reducing emissions up to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. It is also good to see a significant investment of $15B in climate action. However, these numbers pale in comparison to commitments being made by our closest trading partners in the EU and the U.S. (under a new Biden administration)”.

Similarly, from Environmental Defence: “The climate action plan released today has a more comprehensive suite of climate policies than in the past and we welcome the meaningful escalation of the retail portion of the carbon price. We’re also pleased about the portion of the $15 billion investment that is not in effect yet another fossil fuel subsidy. But that amount, which is a small fraction of what other countries are doing on a per capita basis, clearly cannot get the job done. In fact, Canada should be investing $270 billion if it was following the level of ambition of the US or EU.”  West Coast Environmental Law agrees with these points, and also  states:  “While we applaud much of this climate plan, the government continues to ignore the reality that climate leaders don’t build oil pipelines. The recent analysis released by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer confirms that the Trans Mountain pipeline will lose money if any climate action is taken, let alone the action promised in this plan. If Canada is serious about acting on climate change, the government must cancel this ill-conceived project once and for all.”

Economists applaud carbon tax initiative

The federal government announcement includes a 4-page Annex document about its carbon pricing proposals. The carbon tax will rise by $15 per tonne after 2022 until 2030, when it will reach $170 per tonne. The government is banking on a favourable decision by the Supreme Court of Canada when it rules on the constitutionality of the existing federal carbon tax in 2021. In a politically shrewd change from current practice, carbon rebates will be distributed to households on a quarterly basis, and as now, most households will receive more in rebates than they pay out.

Mainstream economic voices support the carbon tax:  The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices calls the plan “a big deal”, and says: “The government’s emissions projections under a carbon price that rises by $15/tonne per year is consistent with analysis from the Parliamentary Budget OfficeClean ProsperityCanada’s Ecofiscal Commission, and our own principal economist, Dave Sawyer. This is a policy that can deliver on the emissions reductions it promises.” Clean Prosperity states “This is a bold, brave, and wise move that will set Canada on the path to decarbonization. It sends a clear message to investors around the globe that Canada is serious about climate action.…. This was not an easy choice, but it’s the right choice. The government is wisely adopting a low-cost policy option that is good for the economy.”   And Merran Smith, speaking for Clean Energy Canada, calls it a “comprehensive and honest plan…. historically and globally significant. The plan will retool and position Canada’s economy to be increasingly competitive in a low-carbon world.”

No new pipeline construction needed in Canada, and domestic fossil fuel consumption peaked in 2019

The key takeaway from a new flagship government report is that no new pipeline construction is needed in Canada, and  the current pipelines under construction – the TransMountain Expansion, Keystone XL, and Enbridge Line 3 Replacement- are sufficient to accommodate all future crude oil production.  The  new report, Canada’s Energy Future 2020: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2050, is the latest annual report by the Canada Energy Regulator CER- (formerly the National Energy Board) and discusses the future of all energy commodities under two scenarios – a Reference case and an Evolving Scenario, which includes a carbon price of $75 per tonne in 2040 and $125 per tonne in 2050.

Under the Evolving Scenario of increased policy intervention, Canada’s domestic fossil fuel consumption peaked in 2019 and by 2050, it will be 35% lower than the 2019 level. However, the report states that even under the Evolving Scenario, fossil fuel consumption is forecast to make up over 60% of Canada’s fuel mix in 2050.  It is worth noting that these CER reports have been criticized in the past for overestimating fossil fuel demand – for example, by the Pembina Institute in 2019, in “Why Canada’s Energy Future report leads us astray” . In 2020, Pembina calls for changes to the modelling assumptions for future reports, saying “the scenarios modelled in the report are still not aligned with commitments set out in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. This model of Canada’s energy future is not consistent with the future that Canada has committed to in the Paris Agreement.” Further, it points out “Canada’s Energy Future 2020 report does not reflect the range of recent scenarios for global oil demand, such as those recently released by the International Energy Agency and BP, where demand is predicted to fall by 50 to 75 per cent over the next 20 to 30 years in order to achieve net-zero emissions.”

Other reactions to the CER report focus on the forecast of declining need for pipelines , summarized in  “No Future Need for Trans Mountain, Keystone XL Pipelines, Canadian Energy Regulator Report Shows”  (The Energy Mix, Nov. 25), and even echoed in the conservative Financial Post .  Followers of David Hughes will recognize this argument that he has made many times, most recently in Reassessment of Need for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project , published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at the end of October .

The press release and summary from the Canada Energy Regulator report is here, with data sets and interactive tables here  and an archive of past annual reports here.  Beyond fossil fuel projections, this year’s Report includes a discussion of the transition to a  Net-Zero Emissions energy system, focusing on  personal passenger transportation, oil sands production, and remote and northern communities. It also briefly notes the impact of  the Covid pandemic, stating  “Canadian end-use energy demand will fall by 6% in 2020 compared to 2019, the biggest annual drop since at least 1990. Energy to move people and goods will fall the most due to less travel and increased remote work and learning.” (A report  published by the World Meteorological Office on Nov. 23 provides preliminary estimates of a reduction in the annual global emission between 4.2% and 7.5% because of Covid).

 

 

 

Updating carbon pricing in Canada: PBO Report , Supreme Court case, and provincial opt-outs

On October 8, the Office of Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released its latest report on carbon pricing, Carbon pricing for the Paris target: Closing the gap with output-based pricing . The report concludes that the government’s existing and announced policies and measures – including a carbon tax which rises to $50 per tonne in 2022 and an Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS) will not be sufficient to allow Canada to meet its emissions target under the Paris Agreement – 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The PBO models three complex scenarios to estimate that the level of the carbon price necessary to achieve the Paris target ranges from $67 per tonne to between $81 and $239 per tonne.

A critique by Clean Prosperity , a Toronto NGO focused on carbon tax research and education,  finds two of the PBO scenarios “unrealistic” and calls for a fourth approach, which transitions the industrial output-based pricing system to economy-wide pricing plus a border carbon adjustment. Clean Prosperity concludes:  “The bottom line is that carbon pricing works and should continue to increase after 2022 at roughly the same level as today in order to help us meet our Paris targets.”  Clean Prosperity promises to  release its own modelling of such an approach “in the near future”.

The report was released while a constitutional challenge to the federal carbon pricing system is still before the Supreme Court, and does not reflect the September 20 announcement that “The Government of Canada will stand down the federal carbon pricing system for industry in Ontario and New Brunswick as of a date in the future.” (that date and formal change to the systems to be determined in consultation with each province.) 

Smart Prosperity (a University of Ottawa research centre)  posted a blog and a report Ontario’s Options: Evaluating How Provincial Carbon Pricing Revenues Can Improve Affordability on October 8 .  Smart Prosperity has published a number of relevant working papers, including : Environmental Taxes and Productivity: Lessons from Canadian Manufacturing  (April 2020);  Border Carbon Adjustments in Support of Domestic Climate Policies: Explaining the Gap Between Theory and Practice (Oct. 2019) and Do Carbon Taxes Kill Jobs? Firm-Level Evidence from British Columbia in March 2019.  Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission also researched and published numerous reports (archived here ) before it closed its doors in November 2019.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission issues final annual report

ecofiscal final 2019 reportIn November 2019, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission announced that their five-year mandate was coming to an end with the release of their final research report,  Bridging the Gap: Real Options for Meeting Canada’s 2030 GHG Target , which recommended quadrupling of Canada’s carbon tax by 2030.   On April 22, the Commission released their  2019 Annual Report , with research summaries of their work,  and metrics which attest to their strong influence on Canada’s policy debate over their five years of operation.  With a mission to: “identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity”, the Commission’s major focus was on carbon pricing –  expressed in research, publications, educational events, and in 2019, in supporting the constitutionality of carbon pricing in the court cases brought by Saskatchewan and Ontario.   Although not stated explicitly, the final Letter from Director Chris Ragan implies that the resources of the Commission will be archived – the Ecofiscal Commission website is here.  Many of the principal authors at the Ecofiscal Commission are finding a new home as part of the new government Institute for Climate Choices , announced in April 2019 – for example, Don Drummond, Stewart Elgie, Richard Lipsey, Mike Moffatt and Nancy Olewiler.  Chris Ragan (formerly Executive Director of the Ecofiscal Commission) and Mel Cappe  are both members of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Climate Choices.