Pathways to net-zero emissions must put people firstCarbon budgets, early and deep emissions cuts, defined roles for carbon removal and offsets also key, report says

March 11, 2021

Family walking on pathway

Photo: iStock

OTTAWA — If Canada is to succeed in reaching climate targets, pathways to net-zero emissions must be rooted in the principle of putting people first and prioritizing systemic change that results in an economy that works for all Canadians, the Pembina Institute says in a new report.

Published today, How to Get Net-Zero Right sets out guiding principles, steps, and tools for success for safe, inclusive pathways to net-zero emissions by 2050. Putting people first with a greater focus on social justice and inclusion is key to understanding risks faced by different groups in the transition to a net-zero economy, creating policies that prevent disproportionate impacts, and minimizing polarization, the report says.

The Pembina Institute also warns that while net-zero by 2050 is the destination, the purpose of the journey is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to stave off the most devastating effects of climate change. Because more emissions now means more warming later, some routes – pathways – are much riskier than others. To address the reality that not all pathways are created equal, the Pembina Institute puts forward three principles essential for controlling total emissions to deliver a safer climate:

  • Pathways to net-zero must be anchored in science and respect a carbon budget;
  • Pathways must prioritize early, deep, sustained, technologically feasible reductions in every sector;
  • Pathways must define an appropriate role for carbon removal and offsets.

The report also documents the key steps to take, and tools to utilize, to bring these principles to life. Key steps include: setting ambitious, national and sectoral targets and budgets for each five-year milestone period from 2025 to 2050, separating emissions reduction from carbon removal targets; articulating plans to act on all available direct emissions reduction opportunities for each sector for each milestone period; and implementing policies that incentivize research and mobilize capital to make direct emissions reductions possible for future five-year targets.


“It is important that the concept of equity in energy transition move beyond a narrow focus on training and retraining to include more broadly-based economic diversification that can be regionally specific. It is not only about providing jobs in renewable energy. Workforce and community equity in a net-zero context requires access to the full range of opportunities involved in energy system change, including in new technologies and infrastructure for decarbonization across manufacturing, construction, supply chains and industrial processes.”

— Linda Coady, executive director, Pembina Institute

“The journey to net-zero emissions is shaped by total emissions created, direct reductions of emissions, removal of emissions, and offsets. Breaking down net-zero targets into three parts – direct reduction, carbon removal, and emissions neutralized through offsets – can help create transparency and robustness. There is nothing safer than a tonne of carbon pollution directly reduced. The fact is the efforts we expend under each category of action will determine whether the journey to net-zero will truly deliver the deep decarbonization required to contribute to maintaining a safe climate. Five-year sectoral carbon budgets are a minimum requirement to keep us on track to safely arriving at net-zero by 2050.”

— Isabelle Turcotte, federal director, Pembina Institute


Visit the Pembina Institute’s website to download a copy of How to Get Net-Zero Right: Principles, tools, and steps for safe, inclusive, net-zero pathways.


Sarah MacWhirter
Communications director, Pembina Institute


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