Photo: Canada's road to an 80 per cent carbon reduction

Bioenergy plays a significant role in several international low-carbon energy scenarios. Will it also be key to Canada's energy transformation over the coming decades?

By Tyler Bryant, Energy Policy Analyst

As a partner in the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP), the David Suzuki Foundation helped analyze energy scenarios from eight countries that showed how an industrial economy can reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The question is: how will these scenarios apply to Canada?

The scenarios for five European countries—Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and the U.K.—all achieved the 80 per cent reduction, even though they already use far less energy per capita or per unit of economic activity than Canada. This implies that Canada, with greater inefficiency built into its energy system, should be able to hit the same target. It will come as no surprise to the DSF community that renewable energy, of which Canada has an abundant supply, is a core component of a low-carbon future.

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But the details show that 80 per cent is a tough, transformative target that could involve some solutions that are not immediately palatable to the broader environmental community.

All the scenarios rely on bioenergy to meet 17 to 41 per cent of energy demand in scenarios that also call for far greater energy efficiency and maximum feasible use of low-carbon electricity. Although bioenergy has a role across all sectors of the economy, it's most important in transportation, where it will be a challenge to replace liquid petroleum fuels. The scenarios included bioenergy from many sources, including trees, grasses, wastes and residues.

But most of the studies lacked any comprehensive framework to evaluate the impacts of relying on bioenergy, and none of them took a serious look at the bioenergy feedstocks that would realistically be available by 2050.

There's an even bigger challenge that is specific to Canada's natural resource base and economy. Across the eight scenarios, Canada ranked highest in fossil fuel self-sufficiency. Only Australia and Canada produced more fossil energy than they consumed, and Canada was the only country that expected to increase its oil production through 2050.

Fossil fuel use is still a fixture in even ultra-low-carbon scenarios, accounting for nine to 48 per cent of energy end use. This meant that the other countries we reviewed avoided responsibility for the emissions that go into extracting and producing the fossil fuels they consume. If Canada produced fossil fuels for its own use in 2050, it would incur an extra 20 per cent of emissions compared to a similar country that imported its oil and gas. This makes the challenge of reducing emissions by 80 per cent that much more difficult for a fossil fuel-producing country. As a result, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is a factor in four of the scenarios we reviewed. If Canada is to have a fossil fuel sector, CCS may well be an important component, and it may be time to take a more open approach to evaluating it.

But the National Scenarios report points to another set of actions that could set Canada on a powerful course for major emission cuts. Most discussions around climate and carbon focus inside the energy system, but the Trottier Project is also looking at the broader set of factors that influence our energy-consuming behaviours. Only a couple of the national scenarios looked at these "activity drivers" as possible catalysts for energy and carbon reductions. A popular example is the way we design our cities: How does low-density urban form make us more reliant on private cars, and to what extent can densification and walkable, transit-oriented development reduce personal vehicle trips and GHG emissions?

These drivers of energy use are not usually considered in the traditional scope of energy and emissions futures, but we need to begin recognizing their impacts and including them in the discussion if we are to transform to a sustainable energy system.

January 22, 2013

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1 Comment

Jan 28, 2013
10:02 PM

Two Basic points have to be acted on for for our children to survive beyond 2050 I. WE HAVE TO MAKE THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE II. WE HAVE TO MAKE OUR MASSIVE ORGANIC WASTE MESSES INTO THE KEY RESOURCE FOR SUSTAINABILITY I have posted many comments elsewhere on these twp points on The Equation of UCSUSA, Switchboard of NRDC, Yale’s E360, NYTimes Dotearth and Grren Blogs so you can google my name to find the details.
Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

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