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RECOVERING FORWARD – REBUILDING GREEN AFTER COVID-19
By Gillian Ward
As Canada slowly gets back to business, we are reminded of the work that remains to be done on the climate front.
The United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap report of 2018 reports “…summary findings are bleak. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.”
WaterToday interviewed the leader of Canada’s Green Party, Elizabeth May, ever drawing our attention back to environmental matters.
“I think that one thing the pandemic has taught us is that when government regards an issue as a real emergency, we move very fast. The climate crisis is a real emergency.”
The global impact of Covid-19 on GHG emissions has been calculated by research scientists Le Quéré, Jackson, Jones, et al. in nature.com, on May 19. 2020.
“Government policies during the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically altered patterns of energy demand around the world. Many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced transport and changed consumption patterns.
Here we compile government policies and activity data to estimate the decrease in CO2 emissions during forced confinements.”
“Daily global CO2 emissions decreased by –17% (–11 to –25% for ±1σ) by early April 2020 compared with the mean 2019 levels, just under half from changes in surface transport. At their peak, emissions in individual countries decreased by –26% on average.”
As people and goods begin moving again, the impact of the pandemic will have led to 4% -7% reduction in emissions for the year 2020.
From the United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report of 2018,
“Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry increased in 2017, following a three-year period of stabilization.
In contrast, global GHG emissions in 2030 need to be approximately 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to 2° C and 1.5° C respectively.”
Canada is behind in our voluntary commitments to curbing emissions, according to the UNEP Emissions Gap Reports of 2017 and 2018. To make the steep cuts now required of us, we can cut back on the activity generating the GHGs, and/or improve our efficiency, and/or sequester carbon. A combination of these three strategies, in the most effective, feasible manner, while maintaining economic stability is the subject of debate among our nation’s top thinkers.
The Resilient Recovery think tank is on the case for Canada, planning for the economic re-start and re-build, ensuring that stimulus spending gives the best bang for our rebuilding buck. At the same time, visionaries of a clean technology, climate-controlled future want to ensure that as we invest in accordance with the urgency to correct climate issues.
Canada’s Green Party platform, Mission Possible, is a plan to align Canada with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), wherein we have committed to “de-carbonizing” Canada’s economy.
Ms. May emphasizes the necessity of ensuring that post-Covid economic recovery spending brings Canada in line with emissions reductions commitments.
“Recovery should align itself with the direction the market is going anyway,…which is to say post-pandemic economy and any government stimulus spending should go towards boosting renewable energy, boosting energy efficiency, preparing for levels of climate change we can’t avoid,” says May.
Canada’s Resilient Recovery Framework works along these very lines, guiding decision making for government stimulus plans according to three filters:
1. Does the measure create timely, lasting economic benefits and jobs?
May’s Green platform lights up at least two out of three measures on the Resilient Recovery dashboard.
2. Does the measure help the environment and support clean competitiveness?
3. Is the measure equitable, implementable, and feasible?
“There is a lot of job creation in retrofitting all of our buildings, things we can put in place rather quickly, using lots of different skilled workers, and doing it in a way that is going to start getting us on track to where we should be on climate.”
As to point 3, the analysis of our green dreams and desires must be rigorously tested for feasibility, security and equity, without allowing obstacles and challenges to cause us to quit trying.
May is pressing in hard to achieve Canada’s commitment to UN sustainable development goals.
“We believe Canada’s target needs to double this year. 2020 is the year of doubling. Under the Paris agreement we are required to improve our targets”, says May. Indeed, all nations committed to the UN led ideals on climate change make voluntary commitments, but Canada has been behind on our pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as stated in UN Environment Programme Emissions gap reports of 2018 and 2019.
Canada’s GHG emissions were still trending upwards prior to Covid-19. Now that we have demonstrated our ability to respond to crisis, to adjust our lives at the most basic level, the Green party sees a path forward to flatten the curve of emissions, to bring Canada into the post-pandemic global economy in line with our sustainability commitments.
May says, “Now of course emissions reduced during the pandemic, and they reduced globally.
I think that’s really worth thinking about.”
“We have so much focus on individual behaviour, flying too much and driving too much but when basically billions of people around the world stop driving and stop flying and supposed to stay home and we only had at most, an 8% reduction in overall GHG emissions…we need bigger changes and structural changes.
WaterToday heard from Elizabeth May on the Green Party thoughts for recasting the energy, transport and buildings sectors.
When it comes to Canada’s emissions related to energy, May says, “We produce hardly any electricity with coal in Canada. The bulk of our electricity 80% is already from renewable sources (nationally).”
The burning of fossil fuels for energy is the leading contributor to global GHG emissions levels. Alternative energy sources have been contemplated all over the world for decades, with the matter growing more critical as the population balloons and the wealthiest nations continue to demand more, more, faster, faster.
Canada meets 6.4% of our national energy needs with fossil fuels, according to the National Energy Regulator, 2017. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and remote northern communities are most dependent on fossil fuel sources for electricity.
If Canada were to cease burning fossil fuels for energy, much of the west and north would become dependent on imported energy from the east and British Columbia.
“We do need to have the grid function better across provincial boundaries. Right now there are a lot of “glitchiness” (sic) between the provinces in terms of what we need to make a national electricity corridor work,” says May.
The level of capital investment required to shore up aging infrastructure and connect east-west and north-south linkages in Canada’s electrical grid has not been calculated. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation monitors the grid.
Says May, “We need a few inter-ties in different places, we need Manitoba Hydro at the eastern edge of Manitoba to link up with the western edge of Ontario, there are some places where we need to actually physically construct additional grid infrastructure but it’s an important nation building project to be able to cycle through green and renewable electricity from one province to the other.”
“Depending on which power source we are using, and it will be a mix, it will be wind and solar and low flow, run-of-the -river, hydro and geothermal, geothermal has great potential, all of these different kinds of renewable energy feed into the grid, so if the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing you are feeding into a grid that you can pull from when you need it and contribute your excess when you don’t.”
May explains, “Our electricity grid needs to be able to be north south and east-west, we need to be able to get renewable electricity up to the territories to replace diesel.”
“There are existing private sector proposals to help get electricity from southern Canada further north and electricity east-west makes a lot of sense. Quebec hydro could sell more into Atlantic Canada and that would help Atlantic Canada de-carbonize. Having 100% renewable electricity and having an improved, beefed-up capacity to move electricity across the country, we already have capacity to move it across international boundaries very easily, moving electricity from place to place through the grid is normal, we just have to modernize, improve Canada’s capacity to deliver renewable energy to any part of the country that needs it.”
The energy lost in transmission is factored into the price paid at the end of the line. In other words, to move energy through the grid, expecting transmission losses, more power must be generated than needed, and the end user pays for this. Local power generation with solar and wind technologies is currently supplying 5% of Canada’s power.
Gerard Campeau is an innovator in the renewable energy field with numerous patents over his thirty year career, currently conducting trials with hydrogen energy.
WaterToday asked Mr. Campeau to comment on the role of solar and wind power to augment the Canadian energy grid and eventually replace fossil fuels.
“Let’s be realists. There really is no alternative to fossil fuels right now. Demand for energy is still increasing every year. Intermittent energy generation technologies are not able to replace this”.
“When we say that solar or wind installations produce a certain megawatt (level), that does not mean continuous production.”
- Gerard Campeau
De-carbonizing our economy, or phasing out the fossil fuels, will have to be done carefully, and intelligently. Renewable energy production and storage is still dependent on non-renewable inputs, on imported equipment and parts, and on mining.
“We need to count the cost of renewable energy”, says Campeau, being realistic about the return on investment. A large part of any cost benefit analysis has to factor the life span of the equipment, replacement cost of obsolete components, and availability of replacement parts.
“How many birds have died from wind, how much farmland has been lost to solar, no one talks about that. Is hydrogen the saviour? It’s not the case. Green is great, but green has a limit.”
Campeau goes on, “Its about transition. You don’t dump on the hand that feeds you today. What feeds our insatiable appetite for energy is fossil fuels. Majority of what we use is hydrocarbon based, they are everywhere in our world, from our computers, cell phones, food packaging”, as well as the insulation for the power transmission lines.
Chart from International Energy Agency, 2017
“Come up with technologies to more efficiently, completely burn the fossil fuels, to capture the carbon. Work toward making the industry cleaner, preserving jobs, making products from the recovered carbon. That makes a lot of sense, and there is money in it.“
- Gerard Campeau
Larry Petkov teaches Renewable Energy at Mohawk College in Ontario. Petrov operates wind and solar energy gear and teaches students the ins and outs of renewables as they function in Canada. Petrov explains that transitioning our grid to renewable or even alternate energy is a complex subject, not easily summed up in just a few words.
“For many reasons”, Petrov says, wind and solar power cannot be entirely relied upon in Canada. “There are limitations, the results are unpredictable. At very cold temperatures, below -30* C, every power generation system declines. Just when you need it the most, you don’t have it.”
In other words, there always has to be a back up. In cold climates, the back up is fossil fuel generation for heat and electricity.
“Canadians are so used to energy on demand”, Petrov wonders how the country could adjust to 100% renewable energy scenario. The transition away from fossil fuels will not happen soon, in Petrov’s estimation. “Not in my lifetime, one hundred years maybe”.
Campeau agrees with Petrov’s time frame. When it comes to shutting down the fossil fuels industry in Canada, he says “the only thing I figure to bridge that huge, huge gap, and it will take a hundred years… is to transition gradually”, and carefully, with North American manufactured components for our renewable energy systems.
Switching to the transport sector, WaterToday learned that light vehicles account for more than half of all transport emissions, with heavy trucks next, airplanes, rail and ships, in order of magnitude of emissions. Elizabeth May addressed the Green Party plan for reforming our personal vehicle footprint.
“The move to electric vehicles, that shift is happening. It may be that over time, fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fuel will overtake electric, but I think that for now, its likely that one way or another we will see the end of the internal combustion engine more quickly than people expect.”
If the manufacture of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles were to cease today, the infrastructure required to support that shift would have to occur as rapidly. The question of how to accomplish the change from gas stations to charging stations in short order, without line ups and glitches must be answered.
Another area of concern for Canadian emissions is our buildings, given the energy it takes to keep from freezing up in our climate.
“In going off fossil fuels and rebuilding our homes, we need to make sure that our built infrastructure, whether universities or hospitals or whatever are built so that they don’t waste energy. Put solar panels on the roof and use fuel pumps and so on, its not that hard to have buildings that produce more energy than they use, and this is a game changer in what it costs to maintain buildings over time, what it costs to heat your home, what if your home actually generates energy that you sell into the grid, this is all quite doable with the technologies that are already in use,” explains May.
May spoke of changes that must come, in order to rebuild green. “The building code is a very long and gruelling process, every five years they put out a new building code, but we are totally going to need to make change faster than that.”
“We can’t be having building code upgrades that take five years, we need to be able to have quickly and efficiently as government has been working through Covid-19,” says May.
May says she does not think people would have believed it possible for government to roll out new programs so quickly. “We are all in this together and we have to do this together, the climate crisis is even a bigger threat to our survival, its longer term so it takes a while for people to take it seriously.”
Chart from International Energy Agency, 2017
Global Emissions by Nation – UN Environment Programme Emissions Gap 2018
Even though Canada does not register on the grand scale of the largest global emitters, we are still accountable for our voluntary commitments to cut back, along with 195 other UN member nations. As one of the wealthiest nations, we need to recognize that our appetite for cheaper imported goods may in fact be driving up emissions levels in the manufacturing nations. Buying quality products with longer useful life from local manufacturers will not only curb emissions from the manufacturing of imported goods, it will save emissions from the transport of those goods to our hemisphere.
There are many ways for Canada’s to cut emissions:
- GHG emissions in the transport sector could be reduced up to 75% by switching from truck to rail, according to the Railway Association of Canada, in spite of the fact that CN burns an average of 1.5M gallons of diesel fuel a day. Replacing the diesel fuel used in rail is not a consideration at this time.
- Scrubbers and carbon capture technologies ensure reduced emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, preserving the existing infrastructure through the transition phase to more renewable and alternative energy sources. This technology exists presently, and could be emphasized through stimulus rebuilding programs, meeting all the conditions of the Resilient Recovery Framework.
- Reforestation results in eventual carbon capture. Wood is a reliable, carbon-neutral renewable energy source, even better when burned in high efficiency, low emissions boilers and stoves.
- IPCC regards the agriculture lands of the world as the most immediate and effective carbon sinks. If the mass surface area of Canada’s agricultural lands were transitioned to a soil regenerative model of production, atmospheric carbon would be captured in the soil, where it is meant to me, to hold and filter our ground and surface water.
- Cutting energy demand at the grass roots level. Reduce, re-use, repurpose, recycle. Eliminate egregious waste in households, businesses, public and private institutions and government buildings.
In 1972, global energy experts were looking to nuclear technologies to safely and affordably power the world for another thousand years. Though nuclear energy development has not been popular with the public, or with environmental groups, progress has been made with efficiency and safety of the technology, as Campeau says, “We have learned, there are better ways to do nuclear, more efficient reactors and processes, and these need to be sited in (geographically) safe zones”.
If Canadian policy was to support domestic production and manufacturing in all forms of energy, ensuring human resources in the fossil fuels sector make the transition to alternative energy with “no one left behind” as the Green Party platform idealizes, that would indeed be a win-win-win to get excited about.
WaterToday continues to track developments in the renewable energy sector, reporting the tremendous efforts made to effectively meet the energy needs of our nation, as a responsible, clean and green global player.
(References include Resilient Recovery Framework for Canada, UN Sustainable Development Goals, Green Party Mission Possible, United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Reports, 2018, 2019)
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