Dreaming of an electric future? If not, it’s time to start!
February 18, 2016
Imagine jumping in your electric car in Vancouver and driving all the way to Halifax, confident you will be able to plug into an extensive network of charging stations wherever and whenever your battery starts to run low.
It sounds futuristic, I know. But it is also an example of exactly the kind of thinking we are going to need as we tackle the urgent task of coming to grips with Canada’s climate change challenge.
The historic agreement reached two months ago at the COP 21 summit in Paris aims to limit the global temperature rise this century below 2°C. The success of that agreement now rests with the 195 countries, including Canada, that were signatories to the accord.
We’ve seen positive signs that Canada is taking its commitment seriously. Catherine McKenna, the federal minister of environment and climate change, met with her provincial counterparts at the end of January for two days of talks that set the stage for a March meeting between the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to start the process of developing an overarching national climate action plan.
We’ve also seen, however, that there is still a wide gap between where we are and where we need to be.
Newly released federal greenhouse gas emissions projections show we are a long way from meeting our current emissions reduction targets of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030, goals that were never very ambitious to begin with. To meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, the cuts are going to have to go much deeper.
Several provinces already recognize this. Ontario’s climate action plan, for example, calls for emission reductions of 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. B.C. has a goal of least 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050, and Quebec has committed to cutting emissions 37.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
These are aggressive targets and the timelines for meeting them are tighter than they seem. What we need now is a vision that will focus our efforts and lead us toward meaningful change.
It could be investing in the infrastructure that will accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. It could be rebranding Canada, after a decade of almost single-minded focus on cross-border pipeline approvals, as a source of clean electricity that can help the United States meet its own emissions reduction goals. It could be phasing out coal completely across the country. It could be all of these things and more.
What is certain is that electricity has to be at the heart of our vision. Cleaning up our power grids, as Ontario has done and Alberta is doing by phasing out coal-fired generation, is a critical first step. But we also have to look beyond the electricity system itself to the broader economy. Study after study has shown that the only way Canada will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way is by moving away from the use of carbon fuels in transportation, building heating and cooling, and industrial processes and replacing them with zero-carbon electricity, like wind energy.
What is also certain is that the provinces cannot do this alone. The federal government has a critical role to play, by building consensus around the need for more renewable electricity generation to power electrification and helping provide provinces with the resources they need to make it happen. March’s First Ministers’ meeting will mark the start of this new partnership and I, for one, am hopeful it will also set Canada on a clear path to addressing climate change.
Featured Photo ©http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/