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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna hold a news conference at the Ornamental Gardens in Ottawa on Nov. 19, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Perrin Beatty is president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Heather Chalmers is president and CEO of GE Canada. Matthew Wetmore is national managing partner of industries and regions at PwC Canada.

Canada’s business community is concerned about the country’s plan for net zero – but not for reasons you may think.

As members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Net Zero Council, which brings together more than 20 businesses that have committed to decarbonize their operations by 2050 or sooner, business leaders from across all sectors of Canadian industry are voicing their biggest concern: Canada’s progress to net zero may falter unless we recognize and work with different perspectives and regional priorities.

As co-chairs of the Chamber’s Net Zero Council, GE Canada and PwC Canada recognize that recent environmental achievements would not have been possible without government leadership and assistance. The success of Canada’s 2050 net-zero goal depends on a strong government commitment and having a clear, detailed plan to meet our targets in Canada’s 2030 emissions-reduction strategy, which Environment and Climate Change Canada will release later this month.

We must learn from past challenges and our lack of success (Canada has yet to meet any of its climate commitments) to achieve net zero. Our country needs a practical, principled, yet flexible approach to emissions reductions that recognizes domestic and global opportunities for climate leadership. And the private sector must also do its part.

As we move ahead, the “how” matters so much more than the “why.” Waiting for a uniform consensus among industries, regions and researchers is the largest risk to Canada’s net-zero goal and economic opportunities related to energy transitions.

Decarbonization will look very different to Canadians depending on where they live – we should neither expect nor require that any two provinces reach net-zero in the same way. Each province’s strategy will be determined by its existing infrastructure, natural-resources availability and policy and regulatory environment.

The federal government can lead by executing a clear plan that speeds the deployment of all forms of emissions-reducing and non-emitting technologies, including hydrogen, new nuclear infrastructure and existing nuclear optimization, direct air capture, energy storage, renewables, carbon capture and storage, and smart grids.

This broad-spectrum approach is not spreading ourselves too thin. On the contrary, it is the more ambitious path. Investment and scale will position Canada to succeed on a wide range of decarbonization pathways.

To support Canada’s path to net zero, we believe that the federal government needs four key principles in its 2030 emissions-reduction plan.

First, Canada’s climate and economic plans must be tightly coupled. Environmental stewardship and standard of living are not an “either/or” dichotomy. Emissions-intensive industries help produce Canada’s high standard of living. That is why our 2030 plan must include clear incentives to facilitate major investments in clean technologies, as well as helping sectors requiring transformation in a way that reflects our regional realities.

Second, Canada’s climate plan must consider net zero in a global context. We can be a global leader in sustainable finance and in producing and exporting sustainably produced low-emission energy, carbon dioxide-removal technologies, clean fuels, critical minerals and finished goods. These products can displace the carbon-intensive (and politically or socially less savoury) alternatives currently dominating international markets across sectors and increasingly threatening global energy security.

Canada should maximize domestic and global emission reductions as quickly as possible by innovating and exporting workable solutions. To achieve this goal, leveraging the economic competitiveness of our private sector will be essential.

Third, private sector investment will not occur without pragmatic, predictable policies. We need major investments in carbon-capture technologies, hydrogen infrastructure, energy storage, renewable and low-emission energy production (including nuclear), resiliency, supply chains and efficiencies in company operations designed to reduce carbon-intensity and total emissions.

These investments all hinge on favourable business conditions being brought about by environmental policies and programs. Canada must maintain its federal carbon tax, deploy and sustain investment and production tax credits and continue to roll out fiscal measures such as the Net Zero Accelerator initiative that encourage significant capital investment.

Fourth, Canada needs an orderly transition to net zero. To maintain public support for decarbonization and avoid risks like material spikes in energy costs and worker dislocation because we haven’t done enough to help workers transition to new jobs amid sectoral shifts, we need a clear plan. Insufficient planning will delay emissions reductions and make transition more difficult as we near 2050.

The business community can contribute to Canada’s net-zero future by doing what it does best – innovating and delivering results. Including these four principles in Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction strategy will help us get the job done.

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