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100 Percent Renewable: Canadian Scholars Champion Low-Carbon Power Potential

Academics warn: 'If governments in Canada don't steer the course of economic and social development, the next generation of citizens will face dire consequences of extreme warming.'

Canada's vast renewable energy resources include wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. (Credit: Sustainable Canada Dialogues)

By leveraging its vast renewable energy resources, Canada could turn its back on fossil fuels and reach 100 percent reliance on low-carbon electricity by 2035, according to a report released Wednesday by Sustainable Canada Dialogues, a group of researchers representing every province in the country.

This, in turn, would make it feasible for Canada to adopt a long-term target of at least an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the academics state in Acting on Climate: Solutions from Canadian Scholars (pdf).

"Climate change is the most serious 'symptom' of non-sustainable development," reads the report, which draws on the work of 70 scientists, engineers, and economists. "All sectors of Canadian society must contribute to a transition toward sustainability. We are concerned that if governments in Canada don't steer the course of economic and social development, the next generation of citizens will face dire consequences of extreme warming."

In addition to a unanimous recommendation that Canada put a price on carbon, either through a national carbon tax or a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade program, the experts offer 10 policy proposals that could help the country realize its climate goals as soon as possible.

Among those prescriptions, according to the document:

  • Eliminate all direct and indirect subsidies for the fossil fuel industry;
  • Throughout Canada, rapidly adopt low-carbon transportation strategies;
  • Integrate landscape, land use, transportation and energy infrastructure planning policies at multiple scales to ensure climate change mitigation;
  • Support sustainable fisheries, forestry and agriculture practices, offering opportunities not only to limit GHG emissions but also, where possible, to enhance carbon sequestration, protect biological diversity and water quality.

"This is within reach," lead report author Catherine Potvin, an ecologist and Canada Research Chair in climate change mitigation at McGill University, told the Globe and Mail. "We could be the world leader…that’s a very important message for Canadians to understand."

Potvin and her colleagues claim that the most significant barrier to implementing such policies is not technical or economic, but a lack of political will.

The Globe and Mail reports:

The authors acknowledge Canada has been hindered by a political structure that divides responsibility for policies related to climate and energy between the federal government and the provinces. This has led to a “patchwork of policies” at the provincial level exacerbated by an absence of federal leadership on the issue, they say.

Nevertheless, Dr. Potvin said, the key message of the document is that it is neither too late for Canada to implement a robust climate strategy nor impossible to do so despite the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the national economy.

But to do so won't be easy. As the scholars point out:

On one hand, Canada's proportion of low-carbon energy sources, at 25.7 percent, is higher than the world average of 18.3 percent, and higher or similar to countries with ambitious climate policies such as Germany (20 percent) or Denmark (26.8 percent) but it is lower than world leaders, for example Sweden (68 percent).

On the other hand, Canadians' average energy consumption is higher than that of other people in developed countries. This directly affects carbon dioxide emissions: Canadians produce 20.1 tonnes of CO2 eq. per person, twice the average emissions of Europeans. Per capita, Canadians contribute disproportionally to GHG levels compared with the rest of the developed world.

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