What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here.  After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government  released its latest climate plan,  A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to  “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18):  “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Clean Fuel Standard, Hydrogen, and Small Nuclear Energy Policies released

On December 19, the government released the long-awaited draft regulations for a Clean Fuel Standard, triggering a 75-day consultation period, with final regulations expected in 2021, to take effect in 2022.   According to the government Q&A  website, the new regulations differ from previous drafts in that they apply only to liquid fossil fuels : gasoline, diesel and oil.  Producers and importers of fossil fuels will be required to reduce their carbon content by 2.6% by 2022 and by 13% by 2030 over 2016 levels.  Clean Energy Canada compiled the reactions of several environmental groups here .  The Pembina Institute called the regulations “both fair and cost-effective” in a press release reaction.  Their report , The Clean Fuel Standard: Setting the Record Straight (Nov. 2020) stated: “ The Clean Fuel Standard is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs as new clean fuel facilities are built, supplied and operated. While some job losses could result from choices made under the CFS, robust modelling shows a net gain for Canadian workers: Energy-economic modelling suggests the CFS will yield a net employment gain resulting in between 17,000 and 24,000 additional jobs.” These projections are taken from on a technical analysis, conducted by Navius and EnviroEconomics consultants before the switch in scope to liquid fossil fuels only.  

Next, on December 16, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada released A Hydrogen Strategy for Canada: Seizing the Opportunities A Call to Action, another long-awaited strategy document which is the result of three years of study, analysis, and consultations, along with collaboration with industry associations: the Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the Canadian Gas Association, and others . The report states that the government will now establish a Strategic Steering Committee, with several targeted task teams, to implement recommendations.  Key highlights of the Hydrogen Strategy are here; the government’s Hydrogen website is here . 

From page 86, a glimpse into the thinking behind the report:

“The energy transition will fundamentally shift the Canadian economy and alter value chains in many related sectors. One shift of particular importance is the transition away from the direct burning of fossil fuels without carbon abatement. Canada’s energy sector accounted for 900,000 direct and indirect jobs as of 2017, with assets valued at $596 billion . This industry’s significant energy expertise and infrastructure can be leveraged to support the development of the future hydrogen economy in Canada. Hydrogen will be critical to achieving a net-zero transformation for oil and natural gas industries. It provides an opportunity to leverage our valuable energy and infrastructure assets, including fossil fuel reserves and natural gas pipelines, providing a pathway to avoid underutilizing or stranding these assets in a 2050 carbon neutral future. Leveraging these valuable assets will not only be instrumental in achieving the projected economic growth for the domestic market, but also presents the opportunity for Canada to position to become a leading global clean fuels exporter.”

Regarding regulatory changes, the report states: “Policies and regulations that encourage the use of hydrogen technologies include low carbon fuel regulations, carbon pollution pricing, vehicle emissions regulations, zero emission vehicle mandates, creation of emission-free zones, and renewable gas mandates in natural gas networks. Mechanisms to help de-risk investments for endusers to adapt to regulations are also needed.”  There is no mention of training or transition policies, although the report  forecasts a  job creation potential for hydrogen which might reach more than 350,000 jobs in 2050 at the upper end  – “a combination of new job growth and retrained and reskilled labour”. (pages 85 and 86).  

 An article in The National Observer discusses the strategy, the state of hydrogen initiatives in Alberta , and reaction of environmental groups, including a quote from  Environmental Defence, saying: “…. “a focus on fossil hydrogen only serves the interests of the oil and gas sector as they seek to create new markets for their products.” Similarly, Clean Energy Canada released a statement saying, “Canada’s long-awaited federal hydrogen strategy … falls short of what some other nations have put forward in terms of investment and ambition.”   A New Hope, published in October 2020, fleshes out Clean Energy Canada’s recommendations about hydrogen in Canada.

Finally, on December 18, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources released a national Small Nuclear Reactor Action Plan (SMR) , which responds to the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap from November 2018. The list of organizations endorsing the SMR Agenda reflects the entrenched “who’s who” of Canada’s “ 75-year nuclear energy heritage.”  Each of these organizations – governments, public utilities, Indigenous groups, and unions, contributed a chapter to the Plan – available here. Individual endorsements include: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; The International Union of Operating Engineers ; Power Workers Union – which highlights the pending closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in 2025 and the need to transition that workforce; and the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) a workforce development organization for Red Seal electrical trades in Canada, jointly led by  the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) .

Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard Framework released

On December 13, the Government of Canada released its  Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Framework, the latest stage in the  development of regulations to complement the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, by achieving  30 megatonnes of annual reductions in GHG emissions by 2030.  The standard will apply to all fuels – gasoline and diesel, but also aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal. It  will also apply to the full life cycle of fuels –  the first jurisdiction in the world to do so, according to the Pembina Institute .  The Clean Fuel Standard process began in November 2016, with consultations held throughout 2017,  largely focused on the government’s Discussion Paper (February 2017).   Comments received in that consultation were compiled  in a November report:  Clean fuel standard: Summary of stakeholder written comments on the Discussion Paper.   In response to the December Framework release, comments on the technical details will be accepted from  industry, provincial  governments, non-governmental organizations until January 19, 2018. Draft regulations are promised for  late 2018.

The Pembina Institute reaction  highlights three noteworthy aspects of the proposed Canadian Fuel Standard Framework:  1. Sustainability and indirect land-use change issues are sidelined –  which is “concerning and unacceptable” ;  2. Canada’s existing  federal Renewable Fuels Regulations will remain in place for a short-term transition period, and the new GHG-intensity-based clean fuel standard will eventually replace them – ( an approach  Pembina has previously recommended in its April 2017 submission to the government ); and  3.  Pembina urges  “the importance of timelines” – i.e. the longer it takes to implement these regulations, the more stringent they must be if Canada is to meet its emissions reduction target for 2030.

How important is the Clean Fuel Standard?  It has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.  And in November 2017, Clean Energy Canada published “What a Clean Fuel Standard can do for Canada”  in which Navius Research used two in-house models to simulate the impact of different Clean Fuel Standard designs on Canada’s economy.  The report concluded, among other beneficial effects :  “The policy would increase economic activity in clean fuels in Canada by up to $5.6 billion a year in 2030. It would also create up to 31,000 jobs for the skilled workers needed to build, operate and supply new clean fuel facilities.”   A separate Technical Report  explains the modelling and provides much more detail about all projections, including employment projections.

Also of interest: From the EcoFiscal Commission,  A delicate (im)balance: policy interactions and the federal clean fuel standard  and an April 2017  Submission to the Clean Fuels Standard  consultations  from the Pembina Institute, Equiterre, Environmental Defence, and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.