Emission targets: if there is (political) will, there is a way


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and non-profit source of news, analysis and commentaries by academic experts. Disclosure information is available in the original location.

Author: Normand Mousseau, Director of the Institute of Energy Trottier, Montreal Polytechnic and Physics Professor, Université de Montreal

It seems that the day will not go without the release of another study pointing to human actions, inevitably increasing the average temperature of the Earth, which was past the breakpoint that will lead to climate change.

This increase is taking place despite the many promises of climate policy by governments around the world. Canada, like most other countries, has ambitious climate goals: an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A new study, called the Canadian Energy Outlook – 2050, developed by Polytechnique Montreal and Pole e3 at the HEC Montreal Business School, suggests that current reduction efforts are not appropriate for meeting these promises. However, the study also shows that the targets are far from out of reach – partly thanks to the rapid reduction in the cost of transforming our energy sector into low carbon technologies.

Goals will not be met

A study based on the technical and economic models prepared by the Montreal ESMIA company has explored five scenarios for the energy system in Canada and each province by 2050. Its conclusion: neither the federal government nor any provinces, with the exception of New Scotland, has introduced measures to enable them to meet their 2030 or 2050 targets.

While Canada has committed itself to a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005, the modeling of the study shows that current and announced federal and provincial measures will continue to persist and even by 1050 even increase by 10%.

This means that the estimates of their own federal government that predict that by 2030 Canada will still achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by around 10 percent, is too optimistic.

One of the key findings of this study is a detailed analysis of the four reduction scenarios that evaluate energy paths that need to be followed to achieve: (1) provincial targets; (2) federal targets (30% reduction compared to 2005 to 2030 and 80% by 2050); (3) international targets (80 percent compared to 1990 to 2050); and (4) federal targets by purchasing 20 percent of greenhouse gas emission allowances from California, according to the Canadian National Report on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Late 2017.

Goals are possible

The most important findings of these models are that the most ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are technically and economically feasible.

Indeed, the marginal cost of the last equivalent CO2 tonne, eliminated in 2050, will be estimated at around US $ 1,000 to meet international targets. Although these costs may seem high in comparison to today's carbon prices (around US $ 20 per tonne under the federal program), it is comparable to the cost of reducing emissions from programs implemented by the Green Fund in Quebec.

More importantly, this figure is 30 percent lower than a similar assessment carried out only three years ago for a 70 percent reduction scenario of greenhouse gas emissions. In this assessment, a marginal cost of $ 1 400 per tonne of CO2 equivalent was envisaged. The difference is mainly due to the speed of technological changes in the energy sector and the fall in solar energy prices and batteries.

An analysis of the impact of these objectives on the provinces also reveals unexpected trends. For example, although Saskatchewan is opposed to carbon prices, by 2050, the province would not have to pay more than the rest of Canada in order to meet national targets. Models show that Saskatchewan could even reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2050, and Canada could reduce it by 80 percent.

Problems in Ontario

In contrast, it seems that Ontario has more difficulties in transforming its energy system. At the marginal cost of Canada, the province would reduce its emissions by only 70 percent, which suggests the importance of supporting the development of new green technologies.

In order to optimize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, every province will have to take unique solutions that reflect its resources and the environment. It is also essential for all levels of government – from municipal to provincial to federal to provincial – to adopt a common science-based approach and best practices.

This approach should enable the development of integrated strategies, both in the production of energy and in its use.

If the climate targets for the years 2030 and 2050 are economically realistic, as seen from this energy perspective, deformation will be required deeply. And it will not succeed without the support of a genuine transitional strategy – which, unfortunately, remains at all levels of government in Canada.

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