The David Suzuki Foundation has embarked on an ambitious project to define, develop and evaluate what a truly low-carbon, sustainable energy system would look like for Canada.
Our target is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels. This target is guided by the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) finding that developed countries must reduce their emissions by that degree to avoid dangerous global warming of over two degrees. So DSF is working through the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP) to evaluate just how challenging this target will be, and what Canada needs to do between now and 2050 to make it happen. For simplicity's sake, an 80 per cent reduction would mean cutting Canada's energy-based emissions to 100 megatonnes (Mt) from current levels of 600 Mt.
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In the first TEFP report, Low Carbon Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, we evaluated research from eight countries to uncover key and recurring elements of an ultra-low emission system. Common actions focused on:
- Major improvements in energy efficiency
- Greater reliance on electricity for heating, personal transportation and some industrial processes
- A transition to low- or zero-carbon electricity sources
- Wider use of biofuels
The good news is that each of the scenarios reached the 80 per cent target, using technologies and practices that are available today, even after assuming brisk population and economic growth through 2050. The implication is that an ultra-low carbon energy system for a western country is at least theoretically compatible with continued economic growth.
Simple, right? On the surface, yes: We can and must increase energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel use. Across the various scenarios, efficiency improvements reduce per capita energy use by five to 39 per cent by 2050, and the carbon intensity of energy use drops by at least by 70 per cent, largely due to increased use of electricity. And the growth in renewable energy is staggering: in five of the eight scenarios, renewables supply more than half of all energy use.
The powerful lesson to be drawn from the scenario review is that an 80 per cent carbon reduction by 2050 is possible. That doesn't mean the transition will be easy. Next, we'll look at some of the specific challenges Canada will face on the road to a low-carbon energy future.