Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy

Climate change is perhaps the most crucial crisis of our modern society and occurs faster than most people predicted. Indeed, climate change is a global threat that knows no boundaries and addressing it requires coordinated efforts by all nations. As a country, Canada is at the forefront of creating an eco-friendly, innovative economy that seeks to minimize emissions and secure the environment. Among the most notable effort is the announcement of Canada’s Mid-Century Strategy in November 2016 by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The strategy was the first-ever in the world. Under the strategy, the country aims to reduce the emission level by 80 percent by 2050 from the 2005 levels. The target is in line with the Paris Agreement, objective to maintain the average global temperature of 2° C to 1.5° C. However, it is crucial to note that the strategy is not an action blueprint or any policy. Instead, the report’s primary purpose was to initiate a conversation on how the country can achieve a low-carbon economy. The report identifies key objectives and twelve potential building blocks necessary to transform Canada into a low-emission economy. This paper analyses two such building blocks, which include electrification and decarbonization of the power generation sector.

The Long-Term GHG Strategy identifies electrification as the first building block in creating a cleaner and more innovative economy. According to the report, it is fundamental to electrify end applications that currently use fossil fuel, particularly in some industries’ transportation, building, and energy requirements. Over-dependency on fossil fuels is one of the primary contributors to environmental degeneration. Indeed, global production primarily relies on fossil energy, a type of economy that most refer to as business-as-usual. The consequences of such activities are detrimental as they result in considerable climatic changes. Therefore, electrifying the process and activities in our homes and transport sector will significantly reduce emissions.

Building’s in Canada use energy to maintain favorable and comfortable internal temperatures, heat water, and electrical power appliances. More than ever before, commercial and residential buildings in the country are using more energy. Data shows that between 1990 and 2015, the building sector increased its total energy demand by 17 percent. At the same time, the residential segment recorded the highest demand of 8%. The National Energy Board forecast that the demand will increase through 2040 (Senate of Canada, 2018). The major reason for the rising demand is the high number of buildings being built, which are averagely larger than before. For example, between 1990 and 2015, more than 4 million new buildings, at least 17 percent larger, were built (Senate of Canada, 2018).  Moreover, it is crucial to note that today, approximately 75% of the energy used by these buildings is from fossil fuels such as natural gas and from electricity produced using fossil fuel. Such energy production produces an estimated 72 million tonnes of greenhouses gases, which is 10% of the nation’s total emission (Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, 2021). Canada could become a low-emission environment by relying on various technologies available in the market. However, the implementation of such technologies will require the clearance of major barriers that limit widespread adoption; The majority of which could be addressed with robust and coordinated government efforts.

As the report indicates, there is a need to make new buildings more energy effective. Indeed, the initial cost of buildings that integrate emission reduction technology is high and may deter many from implementing it; nevertheless, such technologies are cost-saving over their lifetime. Indeed, studies have established that the cost of adopting emission-minimizing technologies in our buildings such as heat pumps and induction cooktops is only 8% higher than the standard. Besides, it improves the welfare of the household and the overall economy. Also, it will require energy retrofitting of the existing buildings and homes, given that more than 75 % of building in the country will exist past 2030(Senate of Canada, 2018). Moreover, retrofitting incentives for buildings and homes could also play a crucial role toward zero-emission. Under the policy, the federal government offers financial incentives for small and medium-sized buildings that make their buildings’ energy effective.

Another crucial electrification area is transportation. The operation of an advanced economy entails the movement of large volumes of goods and people. Such transportation requires massive amounts of energy. Currently, our transportation industry primarily depends on fossil fuel accounting for 92 percent of the energy consumed. Indeed, fossil fuel’s high reliance and usage generate approximately 23 percent of the national emission (Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, 2021). Therefore, to become a low emission economy, Canada must significantly reduce fossil fuel usage while maintaining the smooth movement of goods and people across the country. Some of the initiatives toward low emission include a shift toward different means of transportation, mainly in urban areas. Studies have shown that increased use of mass transit and other active means of transit such as cycling could significantly reduce emissions (Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, 2021). Indeed, such changes in urban modes of transportation have additional benefits such as reduced air pollution, traffic congestion, a healthier lifestyle, and the preservation of green spaces. The transition to electric vehicles is an integral component in the country’s efforts toward a zero-emission path. However, the future of such technologies including is uncertain as it requires special infrastructural development.

Another building block in the Canadian Long-Term GHG Strategy is the decarbonization of the electricity generating sector. Energy is a crucial component of everyday life in the country. Finding a way to use and produce it without emissions is the primary focus of the climatic preservation goal. The global power sector emits approximately 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, accounting for nearly 42 percent of the global emissions (Naimoli & Ladislaw, 2020). To hold the global average temperatures below 1.5°C, the preindustrial level, all economic sectors, especially the power generation sector, will minimize to zero net by 2050 (Bersalli, 2018). One of the most profound hurdles of decarbonizing in the power sector involves adequately reducing such emissions while maintaining security, reliability, and affordability.  Indeed, due to severe climate and geographical location, Canada has the highest energy consumption per person. The emission is also high, just below the USA and Australia and double the levels in the European Union (Bersalli, 2018). However, perhaps the most notable aspect is that the power generation sector in Canada has made significant steps in decarbonization efforts.

The decrease in power generation from oil and control coupled with an increase in solar, wind, and hydroelectric power and, to a lesser extent, nuclear energy is crucial in achieving the 2050 emission goals. Today, power generation relies on 80 percent non-emitting sources and 67 percent from renewable sources—a trend expected to rise over the years mainly due to government support. Canadian power generation sector produces an estimated 642 terawatt-hour of electricity. On this energy, hydropower accounts for nearly 60 percent of making. Other sources include nuclear (15%), coal (7%), gas/ oil/ other (11%) and other non-hydro renewables (7%). Canada is the third-largest producer of hydropower in the world (Natural Resources Canada, 2020).

Although hydropower is non-emitting, the source has various limitations.  Studies have shown that the climatic changes observed in the country will have significant impacts on water use and hydrological cycles (Anderson & Holbrook, 2018). For instance, the annual snow meltdown in the south continues to decrease, implying that hydropower’s potential is likely to decline due to lower water reservoirs.  Besides, the low water reservoir in major catchment areas would compromise marine habitat and domestic water use. Therefore, it is time for the country to design transition strategies from traditional energy sources and explore other opportunities to create a diverse energy portfolio that does not solely rely on hydroelectric facilities such as solar and wind power. Additionally, decarbonization of the electricity generation sector would result in various benefits as it improves end-use efficiency across the Canadian economy. Moreover, consistent use of renewable energy will improve grid storage and flexibility. It is only through advanced storage capacities that the country will significantly rely on low-carbon power distribution.

Addressing the modern problem of climatic changes will require zero net emission of greenhouse gases in the 21st century. The efforts will need Canada to transform its most profound economic sectors, especially in the consumption and production of power. Indeed, one cannot need high energy consumption due to our geographical location and harsh climate; however, there is a need to electrify our buildings to eliminate over-dependence on fossil fuel. Besides, the transportation sector should also adopt modern electrification technologies such as electric cars, mass transit, and cycling. Furthermore, the country will need to contemplate complete decarbonization of the power generation industry. New renewable energy sources will create new opportunities for private and public businesses and social initiatives.