A vision and action plan to make Canada’s heavy industries our low-carbon “Next Frontier”

Clean Energy Canada’s new report, The Next Frontier, sees Canada’s heavy industries—including steel, mining, cement, and wood—as the “Next Frontier” – already employing more Canadians than the oil and gas industry (300,000 in heavy industry compared to 237,000 in oil and gas), and poised to increase exports to the rest of the world. The report contends that Canadian heavy industries have a competitive advantage over their global peers, largely because our electricity sector is now 83% emissions-free. And according to the introduction, the time is now: “The production of certain metals and minerals could increase by up to nearly 500% over the next three decades to meet growing demand for clean technologies, according to the World Bank Group. Global steel demand, meanwhile, is projected to increase by up to 55%; Canadian steel and aluminum are among the world’s cleanest and could be even cleaner. Mining companies such as Vancouver based Teck are also global leaders in copper production, while Canada is the world’s fifth-largest nickel producer—both key metals for electrifying transportation. And Albertan companies like E3 Metals and Summit Nanotech are finding ways to recover lithium from oilsands wastewater.”

The Next Frontier , released on March 24, calls for an action plan to allow Canada to capitalize on the convergence of global market trends and climate imperatives.  The report Canadian strengths and provides more examples of existing companies. It concludes with an action plan to move towards this lower-carbon economy, including recommendations: to expand domestic markets through clean procurement policies for government infrastructure materials; to identify strategic directions such as “establishing a self-sufficient battery and critical minerals supply chain to build and grow domestic battery and clean technology manufacturing”;  investment and research and development in well-positioned industries; and establishing standards which will support a “Clean Canada” brand to the world.  

And regarding our largest and most important trading partner, the U.S., the bottom line message is: “If we want Biden’s “Buy American” approach to include an asterisk beside Canada, we must adapt to what this new administration wants more of (clean energy and low-carbon goods) and what it wants less of (fossil fuels and emissions-intensive products).”

Federal Advisory Committee on Net Zero policies appointed to augment existing research and recommendations

In late February, the federal government appointed a Net Zero Advisory Committee   with fifteen expert members, including Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuf and  Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu, as well as  Linda Coady,  Executive Director of the Pembina Institute,  climate scientist Simon Donner from University of British Columbia,  Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, and others from government and  industry.  As explained in  “Canada’s new Net Zero Advisory Body and Bill C-12” (March 4) by the Climate Action Network Canada, this Advisory Committee was a platform promise made by the Liberals during the 2019 election, and is intended to provide ongoing expert advice until 2050 to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Its mandate, here, is to provide advice on the next framework for Canada’s climate change policies, as currently before the House of Commons in Bill C-12,  the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

An article in The Energy Mix emphasizes the independent nature of the advisory body, and the fact that there are no current oil and gas industry representatives included.   However, in “Accountability Bill Lacks ‘Clear Path’ To Net-Zero Targets, Climate Scientist Warns Ottawa”, Catherine Abreu is quoted as saying that despite the Advisory Committee, Canada still lacks clear accountability in climate policy, and that Bill C-12 is  “not the robust piece of legislation we need to make sure Canada never misses another climate target. To make sure it’s set up to drive up ambition, especially in the near term, we need the 2025 goal and a stronger 2030 goal enshrined in law.”

Other policy voices on the Net Zero ambition are found in Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition, released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices , and described by the Institute as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It  advocates for two pathways: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

On March 11,  the Pembina Institute released  How to Get Net-Zero Right,  which recommends top priority for “early, deep, sustained, and technologically feasible direct emissions reductions in every sector. …..Canada’s pathways must define an appropriate role for carbon removal and offsets. Achieving net-zero will require the use of carbon removal to address hard-to-decarbonize sectors or essential end uses that cannot yet be decarbonized. Carbon removal and offsets, however, cannot be approached as an alternative to mitigation, but rather in addition.”

How to Get Net-Zero Right  is the first of a promised series of reports on the issue by Pembina, and will consider social justice and equity concerns.

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).

Canadian steel, concrete, aluminum and wood – low carbon solutions for public infrastructure

In a February 1 press release, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers says,  “We need our governments to support the creation and retention of good jobs by strengthening Canadian industrial and manufacturing capacities in ways that support the low-carbon transition of the economy”. To support that point, Blue Green Canada has released a new report, Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . Buy Clean calls for the use of Canadian-made building products in infrastructure in order to reap the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and supporting local industry and jobs.  The USW press release continues: “Buy Clean makes sense for Canada because it leverages our carbon advantage. Whether its steel, aluminum, cement or wood, building materials sourced from within Canada are typically lower carbon than imported materials” – thanks largely to our low-emissions energy supply and reduced transportation  costs. The report recommends that all levels of government continue and expand the use of Buy Clean policies for procurement. The report also calls for an Industrial Decarbonization Strategy to encourage technological innovation in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, concrete and wood , and for a “Clean Infrastructure Challenge Fund” , to act as a demonstration fund modelled on the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, but available only for public infrastructure projects, not to private industry.  

Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution is also available in a French-language version,  Acheter Propre: Créer des emplois et réduire la pollution par une utilisation judicieuse des fonds publics en construction . The report includes appendices for each of the sectors, providing brief but specific summaries of how Canadian industry has already achieved lower carbon  processes than their competitors – particularly in steel and aluminum, and what further decarbonization opportunities remain.

The Buy Clean message seems closely related to the Stand Up for Steel national campaign by the United Steelworkers, which also calls for the use of Canadian-made steel in infrastructure projects. After the disruptive tariffs levied by the previous U.S. administration, the Stand up for Steel Action Plan also calls for the right for unions to initiate trade cases; for expanding the definition of ‘material injury’ in trade cases; and for a carbon border adjustment on imported steel.

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.