The Paris Climate Change Agreement came into force on November 4, 2016 and as global efforts get underway to implement the agreement, the Canadian federal government continues to craft its strategy to shift Canada to a low-emissions economy. At the recent United Nations climate change conference (COP 22) in Marrakech, Morocco that was held from November 7 – 18, 2016, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy (the Long-Term GHG Strategy) at COP 22, making Canada one‎ of the first countries to do so.

Under the Long-Term GHG Strategy, Canada considers an emissions abatement pathway consistent with net emissions falling by 80% in 2050 from 2005 levels. This is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Canada’s Long-Term GHG Strategy makes it clear that it is not a blueprint for action. Rather, the strategy is meant to inform the conversation about how Canada can achieve a low-carbon economy. That said, Canada’s mid-century objectives will ultimately be realized though short-term concrete action, which includes an evaluation of various scenarios to achieve deep emission reductions. To facilitate discussion, the Long-Term GHG Strategy outlines potential GHG abatement opportunities, emerging key technologies, and identifies areas where emissions reductions will be more challenging and require policy focus in the context of a low carbon economy by 2050. In particular, the strategy focuses on a number of key areas including the expansion of Canada’s electricity sector, energy consumption in end use applications (including electrification of transportation), non-carbon dioxide emissions, forests, agriculture, waste and clean technology. However, the strategy does not cover emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The federal government acknowledges that in order to achieve the 2050 target, a fundamental restructuring of multiple sectors of the economy will be required. In particular, cost effective abatement opportunities will need to be realized from virtually every greenhouse gas emissions source and activity. The Long-Term GHG Strategy notes that a failure to act now will likely lead to increased costs in the future as the required pace of decarbonisation increases, raising the probability of misallocation of investment and infrastructure, as well as stranded assets. Also, there is an opportunity for Canada to participate in the emerging global markets for clean energy and related goods and services.

The Long-Term GHG Strategy identifies key objectives and potential building blocks for Canada’s transition to a low emissions economy, including the following elements that could frame the foundation for a long-term climate change mitigation strategy:

  • Electrification – The electrification of end-use applications that are currently using fossil fuels is fundamental, e.g. using electricity to power certain cars, trucks, building appliances and heating systems, and energy requirements for some industries.
  • Decarbonisation of the electricity generating sector – Electricity generation in Canada is already more than 80% non-emitting, with a trend towards non-emitting generation expected to continue, including through increased government action.
  • Electricity demand and exports – The significant increase in electricity demand resulting from electrification policies (e.g. doubling or more by 2050) and electricity exports should be satisfied through low-carbon sources.
  • Electricity cooperation – Canada and North America’s electricity future will be shaped by interprovincial and intercontinental cooperation. Enhanced interjurisdictional electricity transmission interties could allow areas with hydropower, or other forms of non-emitting generation, to sell electricity to other provinces or US states that rely on fossil fuels.
  • Energy efficiency and demand side management – The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 38% of the required global emissions reductions associated with a 2°C pathway could be met through energy efficiency improvements. Efficiency gains are also key enablers of electrification technologies and consumer savings.
  • Low-carbon fuels – Some sectors such as heavy industries, marine transportation, some heavy freight transportation, and aviation could move to lower or low-carbon fuels such as second generation biofuels or hydrogen. Alternatively, new and emerging technologies in synthetic hydrocarbons or energy storage would be needed.
  • Abatement of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases – Methane and hydrofluorocarbons are a priority given their high global warming potentials. Reductions of these pollutants can often help slow the rate of near-term warming and contribute to achievement of the global temperature goal.
  • Carbon sequestration – Forests and lands will continue to play an important role in sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This sequestration can be augmented through policies and measures that better manage Canadian forests and forest products.
  • Innovation – A sustainable energy transition is possible with currently deployed or near-commercial technologies, but the long-term transition will be eased with the near-term accelerated deployment of clean energy options, or the development of more innovative technologies. The private sector has an important role to play in this respect including spurring investment and innovation towards low GHG alternatives. Carbon pricing will be an important element to achieving this objective.
  • Collaboration – Working together with provinces and territories, Indigenous peoples, municipalities, business and other stakeholders will be essential to Canada’s long-term success in enabling clean growth, reducing emissions and seizing the opportunities of the low-carbon global economy.

By aligning Canada’s policy objectives with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, the federal government is looking to integrate climate change objectives into its long term planning processes. In the short to medium-term, the Long-Term GHG Strategy will help inform the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change currently under development.