Canada can achieve net-zero electricity by 2035: Jaccard and Griffin

A new report by energy economists Mark Jaccard and Brad Griffin asserts that it is possible for Canada to achieve net-zero electricity by 2035, and describes and models how this can be achieved within the challenging jurisdictional structure.   A Zero-Emissions Canadian Electricity System by 2035 focuses on zero-emission policies that the federal government has the authority to implement, chiefly through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which has allowed the federal government to establish an industrial output-based pricing system. However, the report recognizes that the electricity sector is primarily a matter of provincial jurisdiction, resulting in wide variations which are described in a summary of the status and key features for each province.  The report models two different future scenarios, both of which assume substantial growth of solar, wind, and other renewables; the  growth of energy storage capacity; and continued resistance to interprovincial grid development. However, one scenario assumes continued use of fossil-fuel electricity generation with carbon capture and storage in Alberta and Saskatchewan, along with the development of large hydro in Atlantic Canada.  In terms of cost, the authors state that the scenario allowing for fossil fuel generation will be cheaper in the short-term, and more expensive in the long-term. The authors recommend that the government continue with the existing structure of federal-provincial equivalency-based carbon pricing systems, but that those agreements be monitored by Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, “using the assessment expertise of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices”. (It should be noted that author Mark Jaccard is a member of the Institute’s Expert Panel on Mitigation).

The report was commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the Ecology Action Centre and the Pembina Institute.  A summary by Mark Jaccard appears in his blog .

Canada’s Supreme Court affirms federal government’s constitutional right to enact carbon pricing legislation

On March 25, the Supreme Court of Canada released a majority decision stating that the federal government of Canada was within its constitutional rights when it enacted the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — which required the provinces to meet minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision enables the federal government to move on to more ambitious climate action plans, since it ends a two-year battle with the provinces, and affirms the importance of the climate change issue. The majority decision states that national climate action “is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.”   Summaries and reaction to this hugely important decision include an Explainer in The Narwhal , and “Supreme Court rules federal carbon pricing law constitutional” (National Observer) . Mainstream media also covered the decision, including a brief article in the New York Times which relates it to U.S. policy climate.

The Canadian Labour Congress issued a press release “Canada’s unions applaud Supreme Court decision upholding federal carbon pricing” – pointing out that the carbon tax is only one piece of the puzzle in reducing GHG emissions. Unifor emphasized next steps, calling on the provincial premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the federal Conservative leader, to “stop complaining” and devise their own climate action plans. Similar sentiments appeared in the reactions of other advocacy groups: for example,  Council of Canadians;  the Pembina InstituteClean Energy Canada, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) .

Political reactions

The reaction and explanation of the case from the federal government is here. The CBC provides a survey of political reaction here. Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were the three provinces who lost their Supreme Court case: in a press release,  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney pledged that his government will continue to “fight on”, and will now begin to consult with Albertans on how to respond to the court’s decision – as reported in the National Observer, “Alberta has no carbon tax Plan B, was hoping to win in court: Kenney” (March 26) . Kenney further stated,  “We will continue to press our case challenging Bill C-69, the federal ‘No More Pipelines Law,’ which is currently before the Alberta Court of Appeal.”  [Note Bill C-69 is actually titled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act… and was enacted in June 2019]. Ontario’s “disappointment” is described in this article in the Toronto Star and Saskatchewan’s government reaction is described here by the CBC .   A sum-up Opinion piece appears in The Tyee: “Sorry Cranky Conservatives! Carbon Pricing Wins the Day” (March 29).

Updated: Supreme Court upholds legislation underpinning Canada’s carbon pricing system

On March 25, majority of Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in what  EcoJustice calls a “monumental” decision, that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act does not violate the Canadian constitution. The Summary decision is available at the Supreme Court website as of March 25, here. The Justices noted that global warming causes harm beyond provincial boundaries and that it is a matter of national concern under the “peace, order and good government” clause of the Constitution. The Justices further noted that the term “carbon tax” is a misnomer, and the fuel and excess emission charges imposed by the Act were constitutionally valid regulatory charges and not taxes.

The federal government’s constitutional right to set the framework for pollution pricing lies at the heart of our national policies to fight climate change – originally, through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (2016) and now, through the Healthy Environment Healthy Economy Plan released in December 2020, which proposes to raise the existing carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2050.

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act allows the federal government to impose a carbon price, a “backstop”, in any province or territory which fails to design their own policies to meet the federal emission reduction targets. The provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Alberta all filed separate challenges to the federal jurisdiction – with the provincial appeals courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario both upholding the federal government’s constitutional right to enact the law. In February 2020, the  Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the provincial challenge, and appeals to the Supreme Court from all three provinces were heard in Fall 2020. A more complete chronology of the legal cases is here .

The Supreme Court decision is summarized here – with a link to the full Decision (the Court notes that the Full Decision is so lengthly that it may cause an error message when trying to download it).