4 concrete steps Canada can take to reduce national emissions

Blog - June 16, 2016 - By Erin Flanagan

Photo: David Dodge, Pembina Institute 

Today, the Pembina Institute officially filed a submission on the federal government’s climate change web portal – an initiative launched on Earth Day this year by Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, to receive input and policy ideas from Canadians. The portal is part of the federal government’s larger initiative to work with the premiers to build a pan-Canadian climate plan.

When the prime minister and the premiers met in Vancouver this year, they committed to building a national climate change plan that would allow Canada to meet or exceed its 2030 climate change target. So, they’re looking for advice that allows the country to get on track for that goal. So far, over 2500 ideas have been submitted from an array of stakeholders, including industry associations, environmental groups, First Nations and individuals.

Below are four highlights from Pembina’s submission:  


Recommendation 1

Implement a national price on carbon

There is broad consensus from business leaders, environmentalists, economists and political leaders, in Canada and elsewhere, that putting a price on carbon is an important tool to reduce carbon pollution. During the last election campaign, the Liberal party promised that if elected, they would work with the provinces and territories to put a price on carbon.

Now that federal, provincial and territorial governments are working together to build a pan-Canadian climate plan, we encourage them to establish a national carbon price. They should ensure that carbon pricing stringency increases across Canada, and that revenue generated from any federal carbon pricing mechanism is recycled to the province from which the revenue originated. The federal government could pursue a system that applies an additional carbon tax nation-wide, or a system that sets a price schedule and allows provinces to adopt an equivalent system.  

Recommendation 2

Accelerate the phase-out of coal fired power

In order for Canada to build a low-carbon economy, the country must electrify the economy to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel energy. But in order for electrification of the economy to yield significant climate benefits across the country, we must make sure all our grids are clean. This starts with transitioning away from our dirtiest power more quickly. Coal represents over 70 per cent of Canada’s electricity emissions, while only providing around 10 per cent of our electricity.

To that end, we recommend that the federal government require zero-emitting electricity supply by 2050, with a schedule for decreasing proportion of emitting sources of electricity between now and then. Further, the federal government should join provincial trends and commit to an accelerated phase-out schedule for Canada’s coal-fired electricity. More specifically, the government should incrementally claw-back the end-of-life of coal plants in a measured fashion down to 40 years, with no later than a 2030 end-date for unabated coal power. This would allow Canada to reap significant avoided health impacts, and demonstrate international leadership on climate change. 

Recommendation 3

Introduce Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) legislation

Since 2005, the transportation sector has hovered between 22 to 24 per cent of Canada’s total emissions inventory, and is currently the second largest source of carbon pollution in Canada.

In our view, to address the massive climate challenge presented by the transportation sector, the federal government should introduce legislation requiring vehicle manufacturers to sell additional ZEVs. Starting with models manufactured in Canada in 2018, federal legislation would require that a certain percentage of major vehicle manufacturers’ sales have zero or near-zero tailpipe emissions. The target should have predictable and consistent increases to provide the auto industry long-term policy stability. We recommend a target of 10 per cent of sales by 2020, 22.5 per cent of sales by 2025, and 30 per cent of sales by 2030.

Recommendation 4

Transform Canada’s buildings sector

To meet Canada’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets, we must significantly reduce the emissions of existing buildings and ensure that new buildings are ultra low carbon. In our view, a national building sector efficiency strategy offers Canada an opportunity help achieve significant climate benefits while also growing the economy.

A national plan should set the stage for deep energy retrofits (energy reductions of 30-50 per cent) of 30 per cent of the building stock by 2030, and for all new construction to be nearly zero energy within the next 10 to 15 years. As part of this, we recommend the government a performance-based national building code that requires new buildings to meet nearly zero energy standards by 2025. A specific code for retrofits should be developed as well.   


Steps towards emissions reductions

As the provinces, territories and federal government evaluate policies options to get Canada on track for 2030, we hope they’ll pay close attention to these four ideas. We think our advice, taken together, would make a significant contribution towards the country’s emissions reductions goal.  


Erin Flanagan

Erin is the director of the Pembina Institute's federal policy program and specializes in climate policy and environmental assessments.


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