Net-zero emissions (NZE), denote to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted and GHG emissions removed from the atmosphere. GHG emissions are produced when hydrocarbons, such as natural gas and oil, are burned. GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3), all of which contribute to climate change.

The major human activity that emits CO2 is the combustion of fossil fuels (natural gas, coal, and petroleum ) for power and transport. However, specific industrial processes and land-use changes also emit CO2. This includes human activities like eradicating trees (deforestation) to construct buildings for living, working, and playing which consume energy for heating, cooling, and lighting including the use of energy for cooking, etc.

In conformity with the Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at this current rate and this prophecy is supported by environmental scientists around the world.

As is well known that temperature rise to date has already resulted in profound alterations to human and natural systems, including increases in droughts, floods, and some other types of extreme weather; sea level rise; and biodiversity loss – these changes are causing unprecedented risks to vulnerable persons and populations around the world.  Grievously, the most affected people live in low and middle income countries, some of which have experienced a decline in food security, which in turn is partly linked to rising migration and poverty. Small islands, megacities, coastal regions, and high mountain ranges are likewise among the most affected.  Worldwide, numerous ecosystems are at risk of severe impacts, particularly warm-water tropical reefs and Arctic ecosystems.

Source: Texas A&M University

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Paris Agreement recognize the ability of humans to influence geophysical planetary processes.  The Anthropocene can be employed as a “boundary concept” that frames critical insights into understanding the drivers, dynamics and specific challenges in responding to the ambition of keeping global temperature well below 2°C while pursuing efforts towards and adapting to a 1.5°C warmer world.

The consequences for not doing anything to rectify the situation could be inconceivable.

Here is a brief indication of potential impact pointed out by the report which was published by Swiss Re Institute that:

  • Rising temperatures are likely to reduce global wealth significantly by 2050, as crop yields fall, disease spreads and rising seas consume coastal cities;
  • The effects can be expected to shave 11 percent to 14 percent off global economic output by 2050 and that amounts to as much as $23 trillion in reduced annual global economic output worldwide; and
  • Some Asian nations could have one-third less wealth than would otherwise be the case, the company said. “Our analysis shows the potential costs that economies could face should governments fail to act more decisively on climate.”

It’s predicted that the transformation of the global economy needed to achieve NZE by 2050 would be universal and significant, requiring $9.2 trillion in annual average spending on physical assets, $3.5 trillion more than today. To put it in comparable terms, that increase is equivalent to half of global corporate profits and one-quarter of total tax revenue in 2020.

The following graph illustrates the commitment for NZE of the countries around world:

Source: Climate Action Tracker

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the release of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, a growing number of countries including Canada have committed to NZE targets. While it is encouraging that many governments are committing to NZE, their targets vary in terms of timeframe, what NZE and economic sectors are covered, whether the country intends to rely on removals and reductions outside its own borders, legal status, and other aspects. This has important implications for the strength of NZE targets, and whether they are likely to contribute sufficiently to reaching NZE globally.

Here is a graph illustrating the current trajectory based on the current global commitments and 1.5°C Compatible Paths, highlighting the breach:

Source: World Economic Forum

Unfortunately, despite of the growth of sustainable technologies in recent years, carbon emissions continue to increase. Current climate change commitments are not enough to keep the planet within 1.5℃ above pre-industrial times.  Nevertheless, Canada committed to achieving NZE by targeting for 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2050.

Pursuant to Statistics Canada, Canada is the 37th largest country in the world by population with 38,719,211 residents as of June 13, 2022 and Canadian GDP expected to reach 1,740.00 USD Billion by the end of 2022, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts expectations.

However, Canada is largely defined by its size, as the second-largest country in the world with a landmass of 9,970,610 kilometers.  Canada’s geography changes significantly.  It has a wide range of ecosystems and with the differences in each region; there is a very different accompanying landscape and climate.  In northernmost Canada only 12 percent of the land is suitable for agriculture due to the harsh climate.  Canada has over 2 million lakes covering 7 percent of the land mass.  It is estimated that Canada is home to one-seventh world’s fresh water. Canada is faced with the following environment challenges:

  1. Rise in temperatures, shifts in precipitation patters, air pollution, melting glaciers, road salt pollution, etc.;
  2. Canada’s average temperature is rising at nearly double the rate of the global temperature rise;
  3. Growing snowstorms and fires in various parts of the country; and
  4. Oil and gas industries the oil sand being the most carbon-intensive years. 

Total national greenhouse emissions in Canada were 730 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2019. Oil and gas and transportation continue to be Canada’s largest sectoral emissions sources, with buildings, heavy industry, and agriculture following closely behind. Here is a graph to reflect the breakdown of Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

Canada’s 2019 emissions were approximately 9 Mt lower than in 2005. Since 2005, emissions in the oil and gas and transportation sectors have increased by 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Decreases in electricity (48 percent), heavy industry (12 percent) and waste and others (10 percent) have offset these increases. 

It marks the first time a Canadian government has legislated emissions reductions accountability to address climate change, by setting legal requirements on the current government and future governments to plan, report, and course correct on the path to net-zero emissions by or before 2050.

The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (CNZEAA), which was adopted by Parliament in June 2021, establishes a framework for attaining NZE by the year 2050, joining 15 other countries and 6 provinces to have adopted accountability frameworks to date.  The objective of CNZEAA is:

  • To require the setting of national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on the best scientific information available and to promote transparency, accountability and immediate and ambitious action in relation to achieving those targets.

Since 2015, Canada has turned the tables of the emissions trajectory:  Where once an increase in emissions by 2030 was projected, now it flattened the curve and is on track to achieve the target and putting Canada on the path to reaching the goal of NZE by 2050.  This follows over $100 billion committed by the government to climate and green economy investments and more than one hundred different measures.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced the release of the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan on 29 March 2022 which focuses on “Clean Air and Strong Economy”.  The plan is ambitious but achievable as sector-by-sector approach for Canada to reach its new climate targets of cutting emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and to put Canada on track toward the goal of achieving NZE by 2050.  The 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan includes $9.1 billion in new investments to cut pollution and grow the economy, including by:

  • Making it easier for Canadians to switch to electric vehicles. Investing  more than $2.9 billion in charging infrastructure, providing financial support to make zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) more affordable, supporting clean medium- and heavy-duty transportation projects, and developing a regulated sales mandate so that 100 per cent of new passenger vehicles sold in Canada will be zero emission by 2035, with interim targets of at least 20 per cent by 2026, and at least 60 per cent by 2030;
  • Greening Canada’s homes and buildings.  By investing around $1 billion, for developing a national net-zero buildings plan by 2050.  The Canada Green Buildings Strategy, work with provinces, territories, and other partners to support the adoption of the highest tier building codes, pilot community-scale retrofits, and facilitate deep energy retrofits for large buildings;
  • Helping industries to adopt clean technology and transition to NZE. Historic investments are being delivered to enable industries to be clean and competitive and creating greater incentives for clean technologies and fuels, such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage;
  • Making Canada’s grid even cleaner.  A regulated Clean Electricity Standard will be developed, making additional investments of about $850 million in clean energy projects like wind and solar power, and work with provinces and territories, stakeholders, and Indigenous partners to move Canada’s electricity grid to NZE by 2035 while continuing to ensure that Canadians and businesses have access to reliable, affordable power;
  • Reducing oil and gas emissions. Government will continue working closely with provinces and territories, stakeholders, and Indigenous partners to develop an approach to cap oil and gas sector emissions to achieve NZE by 2050, reduce oil and gas methane emissions by at least 75 per cent by 2030, and create good jobs. The plan includes a projected contribution for the oil and gas sector of a 31 percent reduction from 2005 levels, which is equivalent to 42 percent from 2019 levels and will guide the government’s work to develop the cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector;
  • Supporting farmers in building a clean, prosperous future. Supporting farmers with about $1 billion for new and expanded programs to help them develop and adopt sustainable practices, energy-efficient technologies, and solutions like capturing carbon from the air;
  • Empowering communities to take climate action. Investing $2.2 billion in expanding the Low Carbon Economy Fund to support projects from governments, schools, non-profits, Indigenous Peoples, and more to cut pollution and create jobs in communities across the country; and
  • Embracing the power of nature to fight climate change. Making an additional investment of $780 million to help Canada’s oceans, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands capture and store carbon, and explore the potential for negative emission technologies in the forest sector.

Indisputably, the targets setup by the Government for NZE cannot be achieved without the active and willing participation of Canadians.  No doubt people who drive demand for energy-related goods and services, and societal norms and personal choices play an important role in steering the energy system onto a sustainable path.  According to International Energy Agency (IEA):

  • Under 40 percent of emissions reduction in the NZE result from the adaptation of low-carbon technologies that require massive policy support and investment but little direct engagement from citizens or consumers, e.g. technologies in electricity generation or steel production.  Additionally, reductions in energy service demand in the NZE also come from advances in technology;
  • 55 percent of emissions reductions require a mixture of the deployment of low-carbon technologies and active involvement or engagement of citizens and consumers, e.g. installing  a solar water heater or buying an electric vehicle; and
  • A final 8 percent of emissions reductions stem from behavioural changes and materials efficiency gains that reduce energy demand, e.g. flying less for business purposes.  Consumer attitude can also impact investment decisions by businesses concerned about public image.

Behaviour change refers to changes in ongoing or repeated behaviour on the part of consumers which impact energy service demand or the energy intensity of an energy related activity.  There are the following three main types of behavioural change included in the NZE which could be motivated by government interventions:

  • Reducing Excessive or Wasteful Energy Use:  This includes reducing energy use in buildings on roads, e.g. by reducing indoor temperature settings, adopting energy saving practices in homes and limiting driving speeds on highways to 100 kilometres per hour;
  • Transportation Mode Switching:  This includes a shift to cycling, walking, ridesharing or taking buses for trips in cities that would otherwise be made by car, as well as replacing regional air travel by high-speed rail in regions where this is feasible; and
  • Material Efficiency Gains:  This includes reduced demand for materials, e.g. higher rates of recycling, and improved design and construction of buildings and vehicles.  The scope of gains to some extent reflects social preferences.  For instance, in some places there has been a shift away from the use of single-use plastics in recent years, a trend that accelerates in the NZE.

The good news is that Canada is in the process of finalizing Regulations on “Single-use Plastic Ban”.  The Regulations aim to deliver on Canada’s 2019 commitment to ban harmful single-use plastics. The Regulations prohibit the manufacture, import, sale and exporting of checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws (with exceptions).

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 12 August 2022