Canada to legislate 2050 net-zero emissions target, chems eye opportunities

Author: Stefan Baumgarten


TORONTO (ICIS)--Canada’s federal government plans to legislate a net-zero emissions target by 2050, making the target binding on future governments.

For the chemical industry, the legislation presents an opportunity, rather than a threat, officials said.

The “Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act” will:

- Legally bind the government to a process to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050;
- Set rolling five-year emissions-reduction targets and require plans to reach each one and report on progress;
- Require the government to publish an annual report describing how departments and crown corporations are considering the financial risks and opportunities of climate change in their decision-making;
- Enshrine greater accountability and public transparency into Canada’s plan for meeting net-zero emissions by 2050;
- Provide for independent third-party review by Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to ensure accountability for all future governments;
- Establish a "Net-Zero Advisory Body" to provide independent advice to the government on the best pathway to reach its targets.

“Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is what the science says we must achieve, and this 30-year project will require every future government to take actions to grow our economy while reducing emissions in every sector”, said environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson in proposing the legislation in parliament on Thursday.

The move comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal-led minority government in a Throne Speech (government programme) in September vowed to bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal.

As part of this plan, the government will, among other things, make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

According to the government’s definition, net-zero emissions are reached at the point where there are no greenhouse gas emissions, or where emissions are completely offset by other actions that remove climate-warming gases from the atmosphere.

Trade group Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) said that achieving the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 would require chemistry-based solutions, and as such presents an opportunity for the industry.

Carefully designed, and working with industry, the government’s net zero carbon plan has the potential to strengthen Canada’s chemistry sector further and contribute to making the country’s economy more resilient and competitive, said CIAC’s CEO, Bob Masterson.

The chemical industry was ready to work with the country’s federal and provincial governments “on critical areas” to achieve the target, he said and pointed to:

- carbon capture and storage;
- hydrogen production and utilisation;
- energy efficiency;
- bio-based chemistries; and
- creating a circular economy for plastics, which will allow carbon that is already in the economy in the form of post-consumer use plastics to be continuously recycled and avoid emissions from the production of new plastic resin.

“Our industry continues to be a solutions-provider to the world’s most challenging problems. We are ready to step up to the challenge, but we need close collaboration to meet this ambitious goal,” said Masterson.

“Increasing global attention to mitigating carbon emissions presents an opportunity rather than a threat to Canada’s chemistry industry,” he said

To successfully transition to a low-carbon economy and achieve net-zero emission goals, the chemistry sector requires closer collaboration and alignment between the federal and provincial governments, he said.

In particular, there needs to be a recognition of the important role of the chemistry sector in research, innovation, and the implementation of climate-focused solutions, he said.

Canada is a country with diverse energy resources and needs, requiring regional solutions and a range of options to address the requirements of Canadians, businesses and industry, he said.

“We also believe national standards and harmonisation between the federal government and the provinces will be vital,” he added.

Greenpeace Canada said that the proposed legislation was an important step towards holding governments accountable for meeting science-based climate targets.

However, one weak point was that the bill's first interim five-year emissions-reduction target was only for 2030, rather than 2025, the group said.

It called on the government to work with the opposition to strengthen the bill – including a target for 2025, and clear direction for ministers to achieve climate targets.

Greenpeace welcomed the bill’s requirement for the federal government to publish climate risk disclosure assessments for its own operations, and went on to urge the government to quickly apply those requirements to the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project in western Canada.

Since the Trudeau government acquired the project back in 2018 from US energy infrastructure major Kinder Morgan, it “has yet to justify the need for the project in light of forecasts of a long-term downward trend in global oil demand,” the group said.

The Trans Mountain projects involves the tripling of capacity, to 890,000 bbl/day, on an existing pipeline system from oil-rich Alberta province to an export terminal near Vancouver in British Columbia.

Another environmental group, Equiterre, said that the bill, if passed, would mark the first time the government's climate targets have been enshrined in law.

This was important, as there was “a glaring need” for the government to change its approach to climate action, given that up until now it has never been able to achieve the climate targets it set over the past few decades, the group said.

In 2011, a previous Conservative government even took Canada out of the Kyoto-climate change pact when it became clear that the country could not reach the Kyoto targets.

Other commentators were cautious about the bill, saying that having a legal framework and targets was, on its own, not enough to ensure that Canada can really achieve zero-net emissions by 2025.

What was needed were “efficient ways of reducing emissions that do not harm the economy”, the country’s Globe and Mail newspaper said in an editorial.

Canada’s federal carbon tax was an example of good policy, whereas the Quebec provincial government’s plan, announced this week, to reduce emissions by subsidising electric vehicles (EVs), was not, the paper said.

The Quebec plan would involve spending taxpayers’ money to primarily benefit people who can afford to buy an EV – rather than spending it on public transport, the paper said.

Thumbnail photo: Map of Canada; source: government of Canada