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Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson appears ready to deal with opposition parties to secure the votes he needs to get his net-zero legislation through Parliament next year.

The proposed legislation would bind Canada to hitting five-year emissions targets starting in 2035, and reaching net zero by 2050.

Wilkinson told The Canadian Press this week he is open to opposition amendments to introduce earlier reporting requirements, within the next decade, to show progress made.

Actually getting Canada to net zero by the middle of the century will be the hard part.

It will mean finding a way to eliminate or capture more than 24 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually for the next three decades — about equal to taking five million cars off the road every year.

And all this in a Canada that has been promising to cut emissions for more than 30 years, but has never actually done it.

"It's going to require a lot of effort and a lot of investment. But it is what we need to do to stop global warming," said Taryn Fransen, a senior fellow in the global climate program at the World Resources Institute.

"There is no other alternative."

Reaching net zero involves a combination of eliminating emissions and, where they are still produced, capturing them rather than leaving them to linger in the atmosphere, where they help trap heat and contribute to global warming.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says getting to #netzero emissions will require massive effort. #ClimateChange #cdnpoli

The Paris Agreement adopted at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference said avoiding catastrophic global warming requires keeping that as close to 1.5 C as possible, and absolutely no more than 2 C.

The 1.5 C goal requires wealthier and heavier-emitting nations to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. For Canada, that means finding a way to eliminate or capture 729 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years.

The Paris Agreement saw Canada commit to getting to 511 million tonnes by 2030. In the five years since that was signed, Canada's emissions actually went up.

Dale Beugin, vice-president of research at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, said he is hopeful that this time, Canada's climate action will be real.

"For the first time, federally, we have policies that are consistent with our ambition, with our rhetoric," he said.

Beugin pointed to the $15-billion federal climate action plan unveiled last week, which includes hiking the carbon price and investing in clean energy and zero-emissions technology.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, introduced in 2016, at best only got Canada two-thirds of the way to its 2030 goal. The new plan, on paper, aims slightly higher, to 503 million tonnes.

In Canada, more than eight in every 10 tonnes of emissions come from burning fossil fuels. That includes driving cars, heating houses, keeping the lights on at work and extracting, refining and shipping the fuels to do it.

Beugin said a net-zero future does not mean changing everything about life in Canada.

"Canadians are still doing what they're doing, they're still moving from one place to another, they're still heating their houses, but they're using less energy to do it," he said.

Some of that involves better-insulated public buildings, helping people afford electric cars and building charging networks to convince people they won't be stranded on the side of the road with a dead battery.

It also means expanding and introducing non-emitting energy sources like hydrogen and nuclear power. Ottawa unveiled a hydrogen plan on Wednesday and a strategy for small nuclear reactors is expected by year's end.

It will also mean major changes for the oil sector, particularly in Alberta. Extracting oil and gas alone accounted for about one-sixth of Canada's 2018 emissions. Shifting to cleaner energy is already happening — coal as an electricity source is being phased out in the next decade, replaced with lower-emitting natural gas, or renewables like hydro and wind.

If coal is still used, its emissions have to be captured and stored, a system already in place at the Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan. The technology is currently expensive and limited, but Michael Bernstein, executive director at the non-profit climate think tank Clean Prosperity, says Wilkinson's plan to more than triple the carbon price between 2022 and 2030 will make it attractive.

Bernstein says hiking the carbon price by the planned $15 a year could get Canada 60 per cent of the way to net zero. Making it expensive to pollute and giving businesses an incentive to invest in pollution-curbing technologies is a "big deal" in the bid to slow global warming, said Bernstein.

The big wrinkle in that plan is politics and the law. Conservative politicians in Canada almost universally loathe the carbon tax. Federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole promises to scrap it, and Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have gone to court to stop it. The Supreme Court is set to rule on the matter next year.

Wilkinson's plan to reach the 2030 goal depends heavily on the carbon tax. He says he is confident the court ruling will go his way.

But he says he believes strongly that Canada, and the world, has now passed a tipping point on climate action. Even if there is not total agreement on how to do it, the fights have mostly moved beyond whether anything must be done.

"I just feel like we finally got to the point where we're not pushing the rock up the hill anymore," he said. "We're actually watching it start to go down the hill. And that's exactly the place that, you know, I think we all hoped that we get to."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.

Keep reading

"The 1.5 C goal requires wealthier and heavier-emitting nations to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. For Canada, that means finding a way to eliminate or capture 729 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years."

Not clearly written. It sounds like Canada needs to eliminate or capture a total of 729 million tonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases over a period of 30 years.
To clarify, Canada's challenge is to eliminate and/or capture its total annual emissions by 2050. I.e., reduce net emissions to zero.
Canada's emissions total varies from year to year. Canada's nominal emissions in 2018 (the latest year for which the govt has reported emissions data) was 729 Mt of greenhouse gases. (Canada's oil & gas industry grossly under-reports its emissions, so our actual total is higher.) Our emissions total was likely higher in 2019 and lower in 2020. Whatever the total might be in any given year, by 2050 we need to reduce that number to zero.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is perhpas the most expensive and least efficient method to reduce emissions. Still not an economically viable proposition in 2020. CCS requires a high carbon price to be viable. In the meantime, CCS requires govt subsidy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to capture a tiny amount of emissions — and only from large emitters. If CCS is not viable now for large industrial emitters, how much less viable is it for countless small point sources, such as vehicles and buildings? (Hopefully, other technology, like public transit and net-zero construction, can target those sources. EVs, car culture, and urban sprawl are not remotely sustainable.) CCS does not address or capture other air pollutants.

"It also means expanding and introducing non-emitting energy sources like hydrogen and nuclear power."
If this is a news article, and not an opinion piece, the journalist should not prescribe policy solutions. There are plenty of reasons NOT to go nuclear.

The nuclear industry is its own worst enemy: negative learning curve, construction delays, big cost overruns, mining pollution, waste problem, plant releases, etc.
While the cost of renewables falls, nuclear costs rise. Renewables without subsidy increasingly beat fossil fuels on cost; nuclear requires massive govt support and subsidies.
Benjamin Sovacool, director of the energy group, U of Sussex: Renewables provide a bigger bang for the buck to lower emissions, and are widely available now, unlike SMRs. "Nuclear power is like fighting world hunger with caviar, it's like using the most expensive option when there are far more plentiful and nutritious options available when you account for the costs."
"Can small nuclear reactors help Canada reach its net-zero 2050 goals? Some experts are skeptical" (CBC)
Even nuclear supporters acknowledge nuclear has many issues to overcome before it becomes competitive:
"Nuclear power has been declining worldwide for decades, and cost has been one challenge, according to a 2019 report from the IEA, which said 'new projects have been plagued by cost overruns and delays.'
"Daniel Kammen, professor of energy, UCal Berkeley: 'A bad batch of solar panels is actually a learning event, whereas a bad batch of components for a nuclear plant can be catastrophic.'
"'These new nuclear plants need to perform at a cost level that we have not seen. They need to perform at a reliability level we haven't seen.... And then finally, the most critically, these plants have to be demonstrated to be operated safely during their lifetime and for the fuel management at the end of life cycle,' he said.
"'That's a big list of ifs. So I'm rooting for nuclear, but I think that list of challenges is exceedingly long.'"
"Can small nuclear reactors help Canada reach its net-zero 2050 goals? Some experts are skeptical" (CBC, Nov 06, 2020)

The nuclear push is a delaying tactic. SMRs are not ready to go. Whereas renewables are. At much lower cost.
Just about every ENGO opposes nuclear — "a dangerous distraction from real climate action."

"coal as an electricity source is being phased out in the next decade, replaced with lower-emitting natural gas"

Another fossil fuel myth.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but it's no improvement on the climate front if fugitive emissions exceed a low threshold.
"'Clean' natural gas is actually the new coal, report says" (CBC)
"New studies have shown there is significantly more fugitive gas than studies showed 5 years ago, and the gas is also a bigger contributor to climate change than was understood."
2014 study in Nature: "Market-driven increases in global supplies of unconventional natural gas do not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or climate forcing."
"Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas" (Nature)
"Whether natural gas has lower life cycle GHG emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. One recent study found that methane losses must be kept below 3.2% for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over short time frames of 20 years or fewer."
"Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas" (Union of Concerned Scientists)
"Natural gas, long promoted as a “clean” alternative to other fossil fuels, may not be so clean after all. That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim. A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide-emitting coal plants for two decades.
"…The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is presenting too rosy of a picture of natural gas emissions, understating industry methane leaks by approximately 60%."
"Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term" (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
"Gas is such a bargain that it’s being viewed less as a bridge fossil fuel, driving the world away from dirtier coal toward a clean-energy future, and more as a hurdle that could slow the trip down. Some forecasters are predicting prices will stay low for years, making it tough for states, cities and utilities to achieve their goals of being zero-carbon in power production by 2050 or earlier.
"…The flood of inexpensive gas … is also squeezing margins for nuclear reactors, which are the U.S.’s biggest source of carbon-free power. And it’s driving utilities to lay down infrastructure that could ensure gas remains central to the power mix for decades.
"Solar and wind are certainly winning in many markets on price alone. Without cheap gas, though, the renewables build-out would be faster."
"Cheap Gas Imperils Climate Fight by Undercutting Wind and Solar" (Bloomberg, Feb 14, 2020)
"Global climate change experts urging Canada to reject Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal" (BNN Bloomberg)
"Green Myths Canada’s LNG Sales Force Tells the World" (The Tyee)
"No, methane’s no fix for global coal-fired energy. Here’s why."
"One significant 2018 study measured methane leaks at 60 oil & gas sites near Red Deer, AB. It found emissions at ground level were 15x higher than industry reported to regulators and Canada’s national inventory for tracking methane emissions."
"...David Hughes, one of Canada’s foremost energy analysts, recently did the math on life cycle methane emissions from B.C. LNG and new coal plants in China. He found that 'best-technology coal would have 19.2% fewer emissions at 20 years than B.C. LNG.'
"In other words, 'B.C. LNG used to generate electricity in China compared to best-technology coal would increase global emissions, thereby exacerbating an already extremely serious climate problem.'"
"Global boom in natural gas is undermining climate change action: report" (CP)
"A 1.5 C goal would require a global cut in natural gas of 15 per cent by 2030 and 43 per cent by 2050. If all the current proposed projects are built, natural gas supply will instead triple by 2030."
"More natural gas isn’t a 'middle ground' — it’s a climate disaster" (Vox, May 30, 2019)
Methane leakage may make natural gas as bad as coal, but it’s not the reason gas has no future.
None of the five arguments against natural gas rely on any particular estimate of leakage. All of them would apply even if natural gas achieved zero leakage (which is impossible). The same is true regarding the local environmental impacts of natural gas production (air pollution, habitat loss, earthquakes) — they are dreadful, but even if they were eliminated, the following arguments would still apply:
1) Gas breaks the carbon budget
2) Coal-to-gas switching doesn’t cut it
3) Bulk renewables can displace both coal and gas
4) Gas isn’t needed for grid reliability
5) New natural gas infrastructure locks in carbon
Burning the Gas ‘Bridge Fuel’ Myth: Why Gas Is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary
Oil Change International, May 30, 2019
A decades-long surge in natural gas does not align with global goals to keep warming below 2 C. If govts around the world implement strong climate policy, natural gas would have to decline within a decade or two. Not a long-term solution.

Agreed with all your points. Also, on "It also means expanding and introducing non-emitting energy sources like hydrogen and nuclear power. Ottawa unveiled a hydrogen plan on Wednesday and a strategy for small nuclear reactors is expected by year's end"--hydrogen is not an energy source. It's a battery, not a very good one, and the current focus on hydrogen has been driven by fossil fuel PR; they hope to greenwash natural gas by turning it into hydrogen.

No, the proposed legislation does not "bind Canada to hitting five-year emissions targets starting in 2035, and reaching net zero by 2050." All it requires is that Canada make a "plan" to do it. Canada, and especially Liberals, have never met a plan's targets yet. No reason, whatsoever, to trust that pattern to change now.


Well, at any rate, although I don't think carbon taxes are enough to drive the change we need on their own, bumping the carbon tax is still going to do some good. And at least they are spending some money on some stuff money should be spent on. It's better than the nothingburgers we've seen from the Liberals until now.