Mark Jaccard is a distinguished professor at Simon Fraser University and a lead author on climate policy with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In the recent federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party promised to reduce Canada’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. But now that the party has been re-elected to office, climate policy experts note that Canadians will know within six months if the Liberals were sincere. A massive GHG reduction in just nine years can only happen if the government immediately implements its key policies.
The most obvious one is the federal carbon tax. The government must finalize its scheduled increase from today’s $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide to $170 in 2030. This will incentivize businesses and consumers to reduce their burning of climate-disrupting gasoline, diesel, natural gas and coal.
The federal government refers to its carbon tax as a “backstop” because it applies only in provinces that lack an equivalent policy. This co-operative approach is laudable. But the provincial policies must truly be equivalent, and confirmed as such by independent experts.
Trade-exposed industries, like steel and cement, must also face the rising carbon tax, albeit with partial exemptions and subsidy support to ensure their production costs don’t rise so much that they are outcompeted by companies operating in climate-laggard countries.
But the critical industrial policy will be the Liberals’ promise to cap and then reduce emissions from oil and gas production.
Since some oil and gas companies have already committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the obvious policy to pursue to achieve the Liberals’ promise is a regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) that requires GHG emissions from oil and gas production to decline from today’s levels to zero by 2050, with an interim reduction of 15 to 20 per cent by 2030. This, in concert with the promised regulation to reduce methane emissions by 75 per cent, will ensure that Canadian industry emissions fall substantially – which is essential, if we hope to meet our ambitious 40-per-cent national target.
But note that the oil and gas cap is on GHG emissions, not on production. As this industry adopts zero-emission technologies, production levels may stay constant or even rise. If, however, oil and gas production in Canada does decline over the next decades, the main cause will be global progress on climate and the resulting decline in fossil-fuel demand.
GHG reduction requires a dramatic increase in electricity generation as we electrify transportation, buildings, and industrial processes. In future, all electricity must be produced by zero-emission sources. Yet while current federal and provincial policies are forcing the closure or conversion of conventional coal plants, some provincial governments have been supporting investments in natural gas-fired generation, which also emits GHGs.
The Liberals need to live up to their promise of a 100-per-cent net-zero emitting electricity system by 2035 to achieve their 2030 and 2050 targets. The federal government must therefore reduce the allowed electricity emissions intensity under its CEPA regulations to prevent more construction of natural gas generating plants and ensure the retrofit of existing plants with carbon capture and storage.
Transportation is also critical. The rising carbon tax helps transition our cars, vans, pick-ups and SUVs to electric, hydrogen and biofuel options. But rapid success will require a national zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate. This policy would compel vehicle sellers to achieve ZEV sales targets in specified years – mandating at least 50 per cent of all vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2030. For quick implementation, the Liberals can copy the ZEV mandates already adopted in Quebec and B.C., again as a regulation under the CEPA.
For years, the Liberal government has also been developing a clean fuel standard that requires a declining carbon intensity in the production and use of gasoline, diesel and heating oil. With a ZEV mandate, the rising carbon tax and the oil and gas emissions cap, the government can increase the ambition of its clean fuel standard from 13 per cent reduction in carbon intensity to 30 to 40 per cent by 2030. Without this adjustment, the clean fuel standard won’t contribute much.
Overall, this is an ambitious policy agenda. But the Liberals knew this when they asked Canadian voters to believe in their climate sincerity and their GHG target. Now, with a minority government, it is up to the other federal parties to demonstrate their own sincerity on the climate change file by supporting quick implementation of these policies – and for the government to keep its word. In a climate emergency, that’s what Canadians expect.
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